By Kevin Hogencamp/Jacksonville University
Jacksonville University assistant theater Prof. Deborah Jordan says that “Eurydice,” Sarah Ruhl’s imaginative retelling of the Orpheus myth from a female perspective, will particularly delight Tim Burton fans when it hits the JU stage in late October.
From the set design to the costumes to the lighting to the special effects to the original music, “Eurydice” is the perfect storm of creative opportunity, Jordan heartily says about the JU College of Fine Arts Department of Theatre and Dance’s next theater performance.
“It’s whimsical and delightful and dark all at the same time, kind of like ‘Alice in Wonderland’,” she said. “It touches heavily on love, death and choices – and it’s a modern adaptation, so it’s not a Greek, stuffy thing.”
The prospects for inventiveness on stage are drawn from Ruhl’s playful and poignant creation of Orpheus, a poet and musician who falls in love with the nymph Eurydice (pronounced “yoo-rid-uh-see”), only to have her die of a viper’s bite on their wedding day. Lovingly reunited with her father in the underworld, Eurydice must choose whether to return to her husband.
The show is presented in movements rather than in acts, and set in the 1950s. Mixing mythic with the postmodern, it will be visually alluring with otherworldly tones to indicate Eurydice’s descent to the land of the dead on her wedding day.
“We really tried to listen to what the script told us. There is much more than dialogue – there is a lot of improvisation and movement,” she said. “And it’s really a designer’s dream.”
As fantastical as the story is, it’s equally lovely. Its core is about Eurydice’s relationship with her father, who is already dead and watches her from the underworld. As she awaits her marriage to Orpheus, Eurydice feels the presence of her father.
“A wedding is for a father and a daughter,” Eurydice says. “They stop being married to each other on that day.”
Reviewing a 2006 production of Eurydice in the New York Times, Charles Isherwood wrote that the play “may just be the most moving exploration of the theme of loss that the American theater has produced since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.” Indeed, “Eurydice” was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Ruhl.
Jordan, who thrives on exploring complex and tantalizing approaches to theatrical storytelling, says “Eurydice” fulfilled the key thresholds for selection for a JU theater production: It could be cast (“You don’t do ‘Hamlet’ if you don’t have Hamlet,” she said); her students are highly enthralled in the “Eurydice” story; and the production is a study of the historical significance of Greek theater.
“It’s a real nice marriage of these components and ideas of what we look for (in a theater production),” she said.
JU Prof. Scott Watkins is composing original music for the show; Prof. Ben Wilson is the scenic and lighting designer; Sally Pettegrew is designing costumes; and Brandon Lettow is technical director.
Cast in the show are: Sydney Deal, Eurydice; Matt Robertson, Orpheus; Leonard Alterman, Father; Lexi Inks, Loud Stone; Ashley Jones, Little Stone; Wayne Woodson, Big Stone; Rachel Romo, Woman Understudy; Adam Keller, Man Understudy; and David Bilbray, Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld.
To encourage the personal application of the story, a community art project will take place in the lobby, providing audience members an opportunity to attach their own letters to those they have lost. In “Eurydice,” letters that are passed between the world of the living and the dead play a prominent role.
The five performances of “Eurydice” at Swisher Theater on the JU campus are at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3.
JU alumni are encouraged to attend the Oct. 25 or Oct. 26 performance as part of Homecoming weekend festivities.
Tickets to the show are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and military, $5 for children and students with IDs, and free for JU students faculty and staff. For tickets, call (904) 256-7374; for other information about the show, call (904) 256-7677.