By Mary MacKeen ’23
This past Sunday, the Skidmore Theater Company closed a successful run of its fall Mainstage production, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Marie Glotzbach, Eurydice featured the work of students in both acting and technical disciplines to create a dazzling spectacle worthy of the story’s Greek roots. In a modern retelling of this famous tragedy about two young lovers who venture to the literal ends of the Earth in the hopes of reuniting, playwright Sarah Ruhl takes a feminist approach to the myth by centering the story’s leading lady. Though this myth has been adapted and embraced for centuries by countless cultures across the world, most renditions do not even provide the character of Eurydice with a voice, let alone agency. Rather than centering Orpheus in his quest to rescue his wife from the underworld, Ruhl’s retelling focuses on Eurydice’s journey through Hades.
The story begins with the couple cavorting on a warm, sunny beach. Full of levity, enamorment, music, and joy, the two decide to get married when Orpheus (played by Darren Jackson-Wilkins ‘25) ties a red string around the ring finger of his beloved, Eurydice (played by May Halm ‘23). In the underworld, Eurydice’s Father (played by Austin Brannan ‘24) sends a letter full of time-tested marital advice to his daughter. With an outstretched arm offered to a girl he cannot reach, he walks down the wedding aisle alone. The image, both haunted and haunting, makes the audience wonder if perhaps a ghost is not always created by death itself but merely by the absence death can create. Somewhere in the world above, guests dance the jitterbug at Orpheus and Eurydice’s wedding. The bride bemoans her new husband’s tendency to shirk the responsibilities of a host and longs to discuss ideas with guests who value her intellect. Overhearing her dissatisfaction, a Nasty Interesting Man (played by Max Weigel ‘24) appears and lures Eurydice away from her wedding. She follows him, enticed by the promise of seeing the Father’s letter of wedding advice.
In an attempt to escape the Nasty Interesting Man’s romantic advances, Eurydice falls from his high-rise apartment and finds herself careening into the depths of the underworld where she is reunited with her Father, who had passed many years prior. The Father is one of the only people in the land of the dead who has managed to maintain his ability to read and write, despite the objections of the Little, Big, and Loud Stones (played by Lucrezia Zichichi ‘24, Xander Ratledge ‘26, and Sophie Kelly ‘25, respectively). The stones, who act as both a chorus and perhaps an abstract interpretation of the Fates, serve as the gatekeepers and enforcers of the underworld. Skidmore Theater’s production also included a movement chorus of its own, who acted as the souls lost in the underworld and manifestations of the land of the dead itself.
When Eurydice’s memory is washed away upon her entrance to the land of the dead, the Father becomes determined to help his daughter rediscover her past. Though rooms are not permitted in the underworld, Father builds one for Eurydice out of string. Meanwhile, a grief-stricken Orpheus wanders the world above, writing songs and letters to his wife in a desperate attempt to find her again. He writes a song so beautiful that the Stones permit him to enter the land of the dead, and he strikes a deal with Hades to walk out of the underworld with Eurydice. The caveat being that she must walk behind him, and he cannot turn around to see her. Though their love guides them back to one another, it cannot keep these characters out of harm’s reach.
The story ends with Eurydice, Father, and Orpheus tied up in a tragic fate, but tied to each other nonetheless. Be it the red string that ties lovers to one another or the heavy rope that builds a forbidden room in the land of the dead, Eurydice teaches us that love – in its many forms – keeps us woven together so that even when our stories end in heartache, we do not ache alone.