Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl’s magical, mystical, poetic retelling of the Orpheus myth from the point of view of his bride has arrived at South Coast Repertory in a production that, in addition to being exquisitely acted and directed, is likely to be remembered as one of the most stunningly designed SCR productions ever.

 “Quirky, whimsical, and ultimately quite moving” is how I described Ruhl’s The Clean House a couple years back, words that apply equally to Eurydice, a fantasy-myth-fairytale which begins with its romantic heroine and hero (Carmela Corbett as Eurydice and Alex Knox as Orpheus) in vintage swim gear using language that might sound stilted if it weren’t so darned gorgeous, as when musician Orpheus tells Eurydice, “I’m going to make each strand of your hair into an instrument. Your hair will stand on end as it plays my music and become a hair orchestra. It will fly you up into the sky.” Sigh…

At the heart of Eurydice is memory … and the importance it holds in our lives. Orpheus ties a string around Eurydice’s ring finger to remind her of his love. Soon after, Eurydice’s deceased father (Timothy Landfield) writes her from the underworld that “I am one of the few dead people who still remembers how to read and write. That’s a secret. If anyone finds out, they might dip me in the river again.”

 When A Nasty Interesting Man (Tim Cummings) in flasher’s trench coat, entices Eurydice from her wedding reception to his apartment with the promise of her father’s letter, his attempted seduction of the young bride sends her fleeing down a flight of stairs and falling to her death, only to arrive in the underworld stripped of memories of her life and unable to read the letters Orpheus has written her from the world above.

 Michael Manuel as Big Stone, Bahni Turpin as Loud Stone, and Patrick Kerr as Little Stone serve as Eurydice’s Greek Chorus, a trio of zanies who behave in the playwright’s words like “nasty children at a birthday party” and describe their language of the dead in quintessentially Ruhlian terms as sounding at once “like if the pores in your face opened up and talked” and “like potatoes in the dirt.”

 Yes indeed, the world of Sarah Ruhl is about as fanciful as worlds get, and never more so than when the previously seen Nasty Interesting Man shows up again as The Lord Of The Underworld in the first of several incarnations. Originally glimpsed as an bratty child on a tricycle, this Underworld Lord-In-Beanie-And-Shorts claims to “grow downward, like a turnip” but in fact returns having sprung up (in Ruhl’s words) “at least ten feet tall” but frighteningly twice that height at South Coast Rep.

The universe Sarah Ruhl creates is one quite unlike any other playwright I’m familiar with, and what might come across as pretentious in less gifted hands ends up thoroughly captivating in Ruhl’s, a classic Greek myth as seen with “Through The Looking Glass” eyes.

Under Mark Masterson’s inspired direction, an all-Equity cast of seven bring South Coast Rep’s Eurydice to magical life. It’s hard to imagine a more enchanting leading lady than Corbett (a London-to-U.S. transplant who gets bonus points for her spot-on American accent) or a more dashing leading man than Knox, their performances introducing two talented, charismatic young actors we are sure to be hearing much more from. Landfield’s Father reveals oceans of depth and paternal love in a richly-layered turn. As for Cummings, the recent Best Ensemble Scenie winner for The New Electric Ballroom, positively dazzles in the play’s scene-stealingest role. Finally, completing the cast are the madcap threesome brought to delightful life by Manuel, Turpin, and Kerr, who manage to command our attention even as bodiless heads inside three side-by-side cubes.

Those cubes are just one of the myriad inspirations of scenic designer Gerard Howland, who together with costume designer Soojin Lee, lighting designer Anne Militello, sound designer Bruno Louchouarn, and multimedia designer John Crawford have created the most visually and auditorily bewitching productions I have seen at South Coast Repertory or anywhere else for that matter, and if you don’t believe me, check out the following images.



Joshua Marchesi is production manager and Jennifer Ellen Butler stage manager.

Eurydice at South Coast Rep provides further evidence, as if any were needed, that the Tony-winning theater company is not only without equal in its Orange County home base; simply put, it is one that every Los Angeles theater lover should put on his or her must-subscribe list.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
October 2, 2012
Photos: Henry DiRocco/SCR

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