“What is this?” demands Elena Faverio ’15 as she rushes over the edge of the set and stops short, staring at the book that has just dropped from the second level of the ’62 Center’s CenterStage. “What is this?” she asks again, in a more frantic tone. And then, overcome with frustration, “What do you do?” Faverio, taking the lead in the theatre department’s upcoming production of Eurydice, throws the book to the floor and then leafs through its pages in a frenzy before deciding to stand on it with two feet.
“I wanted to do a contemporary piece and I wanted to do one that had really good, substantial parts for actors. We don’t do many plays by female playwrights so this seemed like a splendid opportunity to perform one by the acclaimed American, Sarah Ruhl,” said Jean-Bernard Bucky, William Dwight Whitney Professor of Arts and Theatre and director of the production, which will run at the ’62 Center Oct. 27 through Oct. 29. Eurydice will be Bucky’s last production at the College before he retires, capping off 37 years of a dynamic and influential career.
For Bucky, Eurydice fit the bill. Written by Sarah Ruhl, this particular dramatic rendition adapts the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to be told from the viewpoint of Eurydice, a woman fond of books and married to the famed musician Orpheus, played by Stephen Simalchik ’13. When Eurydice dies, Orpheus is allowed to rescue her from the underworld on the condition that he not look at her on the journey home, and that she follow him willingly.
As a professor at the College, Bucky has experience both directing and teaching theater. “In temperament and competence I am primarily a director. I’ve continued to experience the great pleasure of collaboration in artistic endeavor and of convincing students of the delight to be gained in grappling together with a joint project,” Bucky said. As his last show, Eurydice will be both similar to and different from shows he has directed in the past.
“We’ve done a lot of classical plays, but the delight of this play is that it takes the Orpheus and Eurydice legend and turns it around,” Bucky said. “This play takes it from her point of view. In particular, because when she dies she meets her dead father, the story is very, very much about her relationship with her father. Bucky also noted that the playwright Sarah Ruhl had recently experienced the death of her own father, and the drama was “in a certain way a kind of tribute” to her relationship with her own father.
“The wonderful thing about the play is that it takes place in an enchanted place and is a kind of very complicated sound- and light-scape,” Bucky said. “We’ve all collaborated to make this enchanted place. It’s not only a physical space, but it’s a visual and an aural place.”
Just imagine the sound of water trickling through an aqueduct-style contraption that runs both above and below the stage. It’s the River Lethe. One side of the stage is decorated in light pastels and warm tones to represent the living world, while the opposite end is shrouded in colder colors to indicate the presence of the underworld, with Lethe naturally dividing the two, just as the classic couple is ultimately divided by life and death.
Bucky believes that the use of sound and light on the set is used “not just to reflect the play, but to be an intrinsic partner in the dramatic evolution of the play. Here they are not embellishing it, they are contributing to the dramatic momentum of the play,” he explained.
So, too, does technology. “Classical theater is … all very formal,” Bucky said. “The contemporary nature of this play allows it much more free form. It allows one to bring in technological means for expressing aspects of the play,” not only in terms of sound and light, he added, but also regarding how characters express themselves and with what means they do so. For example, Orpheus is allowed to carry a guitar, and there is room for modern ironies, which Bucky claims are plentiful in the production.
“Despite dealing with this Orpheus legend in this kind of backwards way, it’s never sentimental,” Bucky said. However, he did note that, at times, Orpheus’s emotionality “is cast in musical terms,” and that his love for Eurydice is even characterized by a composition he keeps in his own mind because it is so complex that it cannot be played. Despite this emotional depth of the work, Bucky noted that “it’s poignant, it’s deeply ironic and it’s very funny.”
“Figures of legend are not heroic in this play,” Bucky said. “The characters are humanized, especially Orpheus and Eurydice. They don’t achieve mythic quality.” But he hopes they achieve a well-deserved round of applause. “What I want to hear in the house are belly laughs,” Bucky said, “and I want to see tears as well.” The show is sure to bring all of those things and more as Bucky finishes his career with one last triumphant show.