Soulpepper brings the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the Young Centre Stage in Toronto
Soulpepper’s adaptation of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, now playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, claims to be a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice from the perspective of the great musician’s dead wife.
Really, though, the play is so much more than a mere perspective-flip: the myth acts as a framing device for Ruhl, the playwright, to explore lofty themes such as loss, memory, and connection. When paired with Soulpepper’s understated staging, this adaptation of Eurydice is both powerful and provoking in its depiction of death as a kind of cerebral Wonderland.
I was a bit worried for Eurydice at first. The events leading up to Eurydice (Michelle Monteith)’s early death initially struck me as a bit hard to go along with, even in the poetic world it establishes. Why, for example, would Eurydice follow a stranger, one who had previously tried to lure her away, back to his apartment on the pretext of an unseen letter from her dead father? Stuart Hughes is both creepy and funny in the role, but this direction makes it hard to see why anybody would ever believe his oily claims, much less a woman who had been previously tipped off as to his seedy intentions.
However, once Eurydice arrives in the underworld, the play takes a running leap and sticks the landing wonderfully. Ruhl’s script is lyrical and poetic, almost painterly in the way it casts images out of intangible things such as loss, music, and love. In this underworld, language and memory are constantly tangled together. Memory is built, maintained, and evoked through language, through common interpretations of words, which makes it desperately fragile.
While all the characters are speaking English, they nonetheless struggle to communicate with one another, each hopelessly wrapped up in the individual meanings of their own symbols and patterns. Only Eurydice and her father are eventually able to find some common language, reconnecting after their mutual deaths in a way that turns reunion into tender reconstruction.
The staging is not overly elaborate, choosing instead to make the most of relatively sparse space. As Eurydice wanders the stage, Orpheus storms up and down the side-aisles, a nice visual metaphor for the lovers’ separation. Later, her father painstakingly builds a room for his daughter out of string, making a giant cube on the stage in real time.
One powerful (yet subtle) image comes when Eurydice’s father packs up this string house, packing it away in a suitcase alongside the relics of his daughter’s stay in the underworld. As her father sits in the empty space where the room once stood, it becomes a kind of reverse-mourning, where the dead father laments his daughter’s return to the living. The play is full of moments like this, where unspoken emotions are allowed to echo quietly.
Some tribute must also be paid to the music, which gives even small moments a cinematic feel. There’s a tension and fragility to the sound that’s subtle, but affecting. It augments the moment rather than taking it over.
As I left the theatre, my mind was buzzing. Can love and loss still exist if those involved no longer recall their origins? Can they be transported into other people through witness, in the same way someone’s painting or song can touch a viewer? Does remembrance make something more or less real? How are we haunted by love, by language, by memory, by the dead?
The play doesn’t explicitly ask all of these things, but it certainly provokes questions like them. It’s a generously ambiguous play that I expect every audience member will pluck something different out of. In that way, it’s a little lofty: this might not be one for casual viewers looking for a light time out. My guest, however, did enjoy it despite it not being his usual fare.
Eurydice is a striking and provocative production that wraps itself around your brain and digs in deep, if you’ll let it. At 90 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s the kind of theatrical experience that–somewhat ironically–follows you home and lingers for a good while after you’ve left.
- Eurydice run until June 18th at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane).
- Regular tickets start at $29.95, with $24 tickets available on select dates for youth under 30 through Soulpepper’s Stageplay program.
- Soulpepper makes $5 rush tickets available to youth under 21, available before each performance, depending on availability.
Photo of Alex McCooeye, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Oyin Oladejo & Michelle Monteith by Cylla von Tiedemann.