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Love and memory

In IPFW’s Eurydice, an old myth gets a fresh spin

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


To put it the simplest way possible, Eurydice is playwright Sarah Ruhl’s take on the Greek myth of Orpheus.

But Jeffery Cassazza says not to let that scare you.

The director of IPFW’s production of Eurydice, which begins its run on February 19, Casazza points out that this isn’t a retelling of the myth, and it’s certainly not a “classical” play by any means. “You don’t need to know the original myth, you don’t need to know the characters,” Casazza says. “There’s nothing distant about this particular play at all. It’s very relatable.”

The barebones of the original Greek myth has Orpheus’ bride Eurydice dying as a result of some accident or violence, and a despondent Orpheus plays such sad songs in honor of his wife that he is granted access to the underworld, or the Greek’s version of the afterlife, to find Eurydice and bring her back to the world of the living. There are conditions attached, of course, and in the end, things don’t quite work out for Orpheus, but that’s the gist of the original story.

Ruhl’s version — which debuted in 2003 in Madison, Wisconsin — is more contemporary, and puts the spotlight on Eurydice and what she experiences in the underworld. Orpheus is still a major character in Eurydice, but the play lets the audience see into the life, mind and world of the heroine. “Orpheus and Eurydice are maybe a little more recognizable,” Casazza says. “They’re young people in love. All the characters have more contemporary relationships.”

In Eurydice, the title character (played by Kearstyn Keller) finds herself in the underworld reunited with her dead father (Reuben J. Albaugh) and trying to fend off the attentions of the “Interesting Man” (Michael Bartkiewicz), while in our world, Orpheus (Billy Dawson) searches for a way to get to his bride.

The play itself is about love and memory. “We get to see a lot of different relationships in this play,” Casazza explains. “We see elements romantic, passionate love between Orpheus and Eurydice. We see a maturation of love, because we see what the loss of Eurydice does to Orpheus. We see Eurydice learn about family with her father, because her dad died when she was young. And we also see the kind of love parents have for their children, what they’re willing to do for them.”

If all this sounds a little heavy, the play has more than it’s share of humorous moments, with much of the comedy coming from Ruhl’s poetic language.

And the underworld, as it’s portrayed in IPFW’s production, is a bizarre place indeed. Casazza compares it to Alice In Wonderland. “It’s a place that’s recognizable, but something just a little… different about it.”

In fact, creating the weird underworld — which features an elevator that rains inside and a chorus of talking stones (played by Amanda Prater, Melanie Lubs, and Heather Moser), just to give two examples — was one of the biggest challenges of the production, and called on the ingenuity of set designer Mark Ridgeway and costume designer Craig Humphrey. “We’re pretty much using the entire theater as our space,” says Casazza. “It’s a pretty enormous set for everything that we’re doing. We have to deal with water, projections, fog, haze, sound effects… It becomes a very technically difficult show to do.”

The actors faced similar challenges. Casazza says Eurydice uses a lot of “physical theater.” “It’s ways of using the body, ways of moving that can be striking and draw an audience into a production,” he says, adding that Suzuki theater might be an extreme example of a certain type of physical theater, though there’s nothing that formal in Eurydice. Rather, what the actors in Eurydice were often required to do, with the help of choreographer Brittney Tyler Coughlin, is go from being very fast to very still, and vice-versa, very quickly. “So, in addition to using whatever acting techniques they’re required to use, there’s also this physical, athletic layer on top of that,” Casazza says.

The physical elements of the acting help to enhance the weirdness of the underworld that Eurydice finds herself in. Casazza mentions a scene in which a character has to look as though they are floating up a staircase, and another scene where an umbrella is held perfectly still — no tilting, no bobbing — while the character holding the umbrella moves around quite a bit. “Maybe the audience doesn’t actually notice, but on a subconscious level, it sort of enhances the unreality of this place,” Casazza explains.

Pulling all these things together has been quite a task, one the cast and crew has risen to admirably, says Casazza. “Those fantastical elements you see in the underworld, that becomes the ‘fun’ part of it. We also can’t forget about the story itself, because if the production is just pretty to look at, that’s not going to hold anyone’s attention for more than a few minutes.”

And though Eurydice verges from the original myth in almost every way — language, perspective, character — and you hardly need to brush up on your ancient Greek legends to appreciate the play, Casazza says one of the reasons he loves the play is that it achieves the same effect: transporting you while allowing you a glimpse of the human condition. “(Eurydice) creates an imaginative world free of the confines of realism, where anything can happen. Yet it updates the story and helps us make a connect to our own lives.”

The IPFW Department of Theater presents Eurydice
Fridays, February 19 and 26 at 8 PM
Saturdays, February 20 and 27 at 8 PM
Thursday, February 25 at 8 PM
Sunday, February 28 at 2 PM
Williams Theater
2101 E. Coliseum Blvd_Fort Wayne, IN 46805
Admission for IPFW students with I.D. is free
$14/adults; $12 seniors/faculty/staff/alumni; $10 groups of 10 or more and other college students with ID; $5 students 18 and under
Children under the age of 6 will not be admitted

Schatzlein Box Office in the Rhinehart Music Center_Monday – Friday, 12:30 – 6:30 pm
Box Office: 260-481-6555
TTD: 260-481-4105

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.