Eurydice explores relationships in the realm of the underworld

If I were to describe Professor of Theatre Jean-Bernard Bucky’s final show at the College in a word, it would be ‘lovely.’ Lovely was Matthew Adelson’s lighting design that created both the warm earthly world of leaves and life and the undulating underworld of cold, dark water. Lovely was David Morris’ set, which, from the moment one entered, caught one’s attention as a veritable playground of cascading verticals and horizontals constructed of bamboo, sand, rope and running water. Lovely were Barbara Bell’s costumes, from the magnificent ruffles featured on Eurydice’s wedding gown to the complexity of femininely belligerent textures layered onto the Stones, a trio that functioned as the ominous Greek chorus. Lovely was the sound design by Brad Berridge, from the first soft guitar behind a trickle of laughter to the soft squeal of strings being pulled by Eurydice’s father as he creates a home for her in the underworld. With such a magnificent team of designers, the visual and auditory effects were nothing less than stunning as these elements melded together to create the backdrop of the play Eurydice.

Layered atop the seamless cohesion of design were the lovely performances given by every actor in this piece. The story of Eurydice, a girl who dies on her wedding day and is sought after by her musician husband, Orpheus, is ultimately a tragic one. And yet, through Bucky’s direction, each member of the cast was able to find playfulness even in the saddest of moments. Sarah Ruhl’s script, in the words of Elena Faverio ’15, who starred as Eurydice, is “beautiful and poetic and bizarre and quirky.” And beautifully quirky, too, was Faverio’s Eurydice – simultaneously lovely and innocent, silly and spontaneous. In her first performance at the College, Faverio left her audience in eager anticipation of the talent she will bring to the theater program at the College over the next four years.

Stephen Simalchik ’13, a musician himself, gave a very honest and sweet portrayal of Orpheus. At times very serious, and at others seriously funny, with well-timed dry humor, Simalchik made a great husband and counterweight to Faverio’s passionate and impulsive ingénue.

In Ruhl’s version of the classic myth, Eurydice’s father, played by Jonathan Draxton ’12, meets her in the underworld after her sudden, premature death. Draxton’s performance most embodied Bucky’s blend of playfulness and tragedy. As he rediscovers his lost daughter, Eurydice’s father reveals to her forgotten stories of his own childhood, before losing her again to her husband, losing her, in a sense to a second death. His advice to her, “Continue to give yourself to others, because that is the ultimate satisfaction in life,” is the heart of his character, whose devotion to his daughter is arguably the most compelling plot line of the play. In Eurydice’s words, “a wedding is for fathers and daughters”; the ‘marriage’ between Faverio and Draxton and the letting go of that relationship was almost more important to the emotional core of the story than her actual marriage to Orpheus.

The bravest performance of the piece came from one of the least likeable characters: Petra Mijanović ’14 as the Lord of the Underworld. With fathomless hollow eyes that made one really question the existence of her character’s soul, Mijanović treated the audience to a truly fantastic exploration of the sinister side of playfulness. Creepily instructing Eurydice, “Husbands are for children – you need a lover,” Mijanović’s spine-chilling attempt to seduce Faverio while riding a tiny tricycle and licking an enormous lollipop was one of the highlights of the show. Bucky’s decision to cast a woman in the role of a self-described “broad-shouldered man” was both bold and exceedingly effective. Mijanović’s eerily childish laugh and strong command of the space will not be forgotten any time soon.

Three dynamic senior performers, Tyisha Turner ’12, Margot Robinson ’12 and Ali Mitchell ’12, played the Stones, whose interaction with the audience pulled viewers into the strange and twisted underworld. Their physicality and cohesiveness as a group completed the shift to the world of death into which Eurydice fell. The Stones insisted that the dead spoke a different language, expanding upon Ruhl’s theme of miscommunication and failure to understand. Throughout the play we see characters try to connect through both written and spoken languages as well as through music, consistently failing to have their messages understood. Ruhl explores how communication changes after death in such moments including Orpheus’s heartbreaking phone call to an operator trying to connect him to Eurydice in the underworld (still using playfull dialouge as he insists she has no last name). And in the awful final moment of the play, this theme continues; Simalchik fails to read a note that his wife has written him because in crossing the River Styx one loses the memory of language. Though all communication is ultimately fruitless for the characters in the show, Bucky never failed to communicate the beauty of the story in this, his final gift to the College. This community will not soon forget his many years of wonderful work.

photo courtesy of David Dashiell Elena Faverio ’15, as Eurydice, crosses the River Styx to enter the realm of the underworld.