Allens Lane Theater joins this year’s Fringe with a production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, filmed and available for streaming on Vimeo for ticket buyers through October 4, 2020. The lack of a live audience doesn’t hinder the impact of this production, and may even sharpen its themes for the COVID-era audience.
Adapted from Greek myth, Eurydice follows Orpheus (William Daniels) and Eurydice (Taylor Morgan), lovers who marry but are separated when Eurydice dies shortly after the wedding. Orpheus journeys to the underworld and persuades the lord of the underworld (Jed Krivisky) to let him bring his beloved back to the land of the living. There’s one condition: Orpheus must walk before Eurydice to the surface without looking back at her. In the traditional tale, Orpheus’s confidence wavers at the end of his journey and he looks back, only to see his wife disappear forever.
This retelling focuses on Eurydice and her experiences with some additional twists. Most notably she meets her father (played brilliantly by Hanlon Smith-Dorsey) in the underworld, who helps her regain her memories, erased when she was dipped in the river Lethe upon arrival. Ruhl has a new take on the fatal look back, and imagines the aftermath for Eurydice and her family.
From stage to screen
If performing without an audience was difficult for director Shannon Hill’s cast and crew, or if their acting suffered for it, I couldn’t tell. In fact, the missing audience contributes to the themes of isolation and ambiguity that permeate the narrative. Much about this production feels uncertain: the setting, the time period, even and especially the characters themselves, which feels apt given the current, notoriously “uncertain” times. Not meant to be an easy, lighthearted affair, it’s an intriguing and enjoyable performance that contains moments of levity and warmth in Daniels’s dynamic and persuasive characterization, and tender moments between a nuanced Morgan and Smith-Dorsey as Eurydice and her father.
The camerawork feels clunky at times, especially in the beginning; there are jump cuts that can be jarring and intervals when the camera focuses on one character while cutting off the head of another, even as they’re moving onstage. But as the performance continued, I genuinely didn’t notice many camera changes because they became less frequent and jarring, and also because I became so engrossed in the puzzle that is the play.
A new look at tragedy
While I can certainly appreciate a narrative that centers Eurydice’s experience rather than traditional protagonist Orpheus, the behavior of the titular character is in turn baffling and frustrating in Ruhl’s telling. Instead of being a victim of forces outside of her control, Eurydice’s newfound agency (if it can truly be called that) is unfortunately used to explain why and how her tragedy is the result of her own actions.
But in a real era marked by untimely death, desperation, and missteps of every variety, Eurydice offers a performance that defamiliarizes a well-known tragedy, hitting audiences closer to home than it may have in more “normal” times.
Image description: A photo of a man in a black shirt and a woman in a flower-print dress taken from the side. They’re laughing with their faces turned toward each other.
What, When, Where
Eurydice. By Sarah Ruhl, directed by Shannon Hill. Through October 4, 2020, part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festivel. Find more info here.
This show contains mentions of death and sexual harassment.