Eurydice is both explosive and understated

It’s rare, today, for an audience to visibly and audibly react to a performance in the theatre. It’s even rarer for an audience to visibly and audibly react to a performance of an ancient Greek myth with which they are immensely familiar.

Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice at UBC Theatre had audiences stunned, moved and laughing. A retelling of the myth of musician Orpheus (Daniel Curalli), the piece is as much about lost lovers as fathers and daughters. On her wedding night, Eurydice — played by radiantly open-hearted Kelsey Ranshaw — is met by a Nasty Interesting Man (Francis Winter) and encounters her death and the underworld. In this kingdom, she encounters her father (Michael Fera, UBC alumnus from 1987) and a chorus of stones (Joylyn Secunda, Mariam Barry and Meegin Tahirih Pye) who reject all emotion, literature and song.

Winter’s role as the king of the underworld must be congratulated. He transforms from charming to menacing in an instant, whether appearing in a suave black tie or a child’s getup and a tricycle. Whether dancing shadow-like at his daughter’s wedding or reading a Lear-Cordelia scene with her in the underworld, Fera also stands out as a heartbreakingly sweet character whose relationship with Eurydice is strong from the beginning to the end of the play.

Rhul’s script is undoubtedly difficult to stage. Scenes are short and rely on a staggering amount silence to tell their stories. There is a sense of time passing endlessly, but also no time at all. Scenes are alternated between the underworld — endearing scenes between Eurydice and her father, comically juxtaposed with the stone chorus — and Orpheus’s letters to his wife. One particularly moving scene involves Eurydice’s father building her a room out of string while she plays hopscotch. They share a moment of a smile, in which we see their whole blissful past recaptured in that instant.

Heipo Leung’s set design and Alix Miller’s costumes were wonderfully translated from earth to the underworld. A myriad of greys made up the backdrop and costumes to both worlds, the sole source of colour stemming from the adorably dorky, purposefully insecure Orpheus.

With such an explosive world beautifully realized by the actors and demonstrated through Rhul’s script, the understated set was a refreshing take on the rather overdone Hades. A raining elevator to Hell, soundscapes and music performed by the chorus were the most magical elements, contrasting to the mechanical, underground setting of pipes and buckets.

Staggering out of the theatre in a sort of sad-happy disorientation, Eurydice’s audiences were emotionally engaged in this whimsical, bittersweet performance directed by MFA candidate Keltie Forsyth.