"Eurydice” is a modern play that retells the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus from the prospective of Eurydice, his wife. Written by Sarah Ruhl, it was first staged in 2003 and reached a professional production in New York four years later to enthusiastic reviews and multiple awards. As director Wesley Cornwell points out, all good myths remind us that pleasure and pain are often tied together for those we love. Characters struggle to communicate and connect, and in the end they — and indeed we, the audience — are forced to reconcile with the fact that sometimes words are not enough.
The short (about 75-minute) work is a wonderful ending to what has been a stunningly powerful summer at Princeton Summer Theater on the University campus (in the Hamilton Murray Theater). The acting has been superb, the direction precise and intelligent, and especially the setting design, lighting, and costumes have shown brilliant, even genius touches.
Here, you need not worry about researching the Orpheus myth; playwright Ruhl has given you what you need for details. You may remember that Orpheus himself dies and can escape from the underworld, but in the process, must not look back. Ruhl’s underworld is a beautiful, almost lyrical place. In set designer Jeffrey Van Velsor’s mind, it is a magical mixture of hanging green string and white lighted upside down umbrellas.
There are only seven characters: Eurydice (the lovely and extremely talented Caroline Hertz), Brad Wilson as Orpheus; Evan Thompson as Eurydice’s father, also deceased and a total creation of Ruhl’s; and Ross Baron as the somewhat enigmatic Lord of the Underworld who carries a small red umbrella that undoubtedly is meant to signify something (which escaped this reviewer).
The final three characters represent a Greek chorus, here named Big Stone, Little Stone, and Loud Stone (played by Kanoa Mulling, Maeve Brady, and Bits Sola). Like all such choruses they comment on the action or lack of it, offer sometimes snide side views, but do not affect the plot. The story itself centers more and more on Eurydice’s growing reliance on her father, his obvious rekindled concern for her, and the conflicts it brings.
Director Cornwell has kept his characters in low key, thereby softening the highs and lows and allowing the audience to let their own emotions do the sad work of the dialogue. The effect is the more devastating. There is considerable music and singing (credit Vince DiMura, Steven Tran, and cellist Wren Murray) that underscore the mood of the piece.
What a fine summer — many of the young artists plan to seek careers on or near the stage, and you should be seeing their names in the not very far future.
“Eurydice,” Hamilton Murray Theater, Princeton University campus. Thursday through Saturday, August 13 to 15, at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, August 15 and 16, matinees at 2 p.m. $22 to $27.50, 732-997-0205 or www.princetonsummertheater.org.