"Eurydice," Sarah Ruhl's modern spin on the classic Greek tale of Orpheus in the Underworld appropriately opened at the Underground Theatre on Thursday night.
The original myth tells how Eurydice dies on their wedding day and Orpheus goes to bring his bride back from the dead. His music charms even Hades himself, who tells Orpheus he can lead his bride back to the land of the living, but only if he does not turn around until they are both above ground.
Orpheus looks back a second too soon and Eurydice vanishes.
Ruhl explores Eurydice's virtually nonexistent side of the story to find new levels of tragedy.
An opening scene at the seashore gives weight to the romance. Eurydice seems an odd match for Orpheus. She likes to read and lacks musical abilities. But Shayna Schafter imbues her with such a sense of sweetness we see an ordinary young woman in a series of extraordinary circumstances.
Similar qualities are possessed by Justin Peck as her father and firmly established when he reads the speech he will never give at her wedding. Theirs is the key relationship in this play, underscored by the declaration "a wedding is for a father and a daughter."
Orpheus (Ted Webster) is pushed into the background this time around, forced to talk about his most beautiful music in the world because any song he sings would shatter the notion.
Ruhl's Greek chorus is the trio of Little Stone (Haley Methner), Big Stone (Christian Van Orsdel), and Loud Stone (Camryn Buelow). Wearing garish clown makeup, the Stones demand the dead embrace being dead, move set pieces around at the snap of a finger, and sing snippets of songs in three-part harmony. The common denominator for director Robert Lee's song choices is that they make their points with the same simple grace of Ruhl's script.
Jack Riley plays a Nasty Interesting Man, who is preoccupied with what is "interesting." Riley's character was way more creepy than nasty, especially when he returns in the second half looking and sounding like Jimmy Fallon possessed by Adam Sandler's dark side.
There is a point as Eurydice and her father share memories where I felt they were just treading water until Orpheus finally shows up. When that happened the Lord of the Underworld strikes the well-known bargain way too quickly.
But Ruhl's dramatic payoff certainly overcomes such concerns.
Obviously you see "Eurydice" expecting a twist on the original myth. I anticipated a really big, Agatha Christie level, twist. Instead, Ruhl provides five gut-punching twists, each of which would have audience members picking it as the most devastating one of the bunch.
The play has a contemporary setting. The stage constructed for this play bears a strong resemblance to an ancient Greek skene. Images projected on its facade provide a sense of place for each scene.
Water is important in this play. The Styx is the most famous of the rivers flowing through Hades, but in "Eurydice" it is Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, that matters more.
But I doubt the waters of Lethe could make you forget how this play plays out.
If you go
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 8.
Where: The Underground Theatre, 506 W. Michigan St.
How much: $20