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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Reclaiming of Eurydice

Dramaturg, Meghan Trelease, discusses how Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice modernizes the classic Greek Myth.
Sarah Ruhl finds inspiration for her play Eurydice in the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a tale which is quintessentially tragic.  The tragedy of the classical lovers lies in the idea of one fated and fatal moment, one split second decision that alters two lifetimes.  When Orpheus descends into the Underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice from untimely death, he receives strict instructions that he must walk out of the realm of the dead without looking back at his beloved.  Orpheus must resist the temptation to reassure himself that Eurydice is following him, and he must practice complete and total faith.  When he does look back, it is an all too human response. Whether Orpheus’ failure to comply with his directives is the result of a knee jerk, unconscious response or indicative of some larger fissure of trust between himself and Eurydice, the fact is this single action bears eternal and weighty consequences.  Eurydice must die a second death, and Orpheus must return alone to the earthly realm and live out the rest of his days without his one great love.

Ultimately, Sarah Ruhl reclaims Eurydice from her traditional role as a footnote and mere function in the tragedy belonging largely to her husband Orpheus. Ruhl rescues Eurydice from tragedy, victimhood, disempowerment, and oblivion.  The woman who triumphantly emerges is the amazing woman you will see on the Vasey stage: a woman who deals with incredibly difficult circumstances, yet never wavers in her determination to control of her own life.  Suddenly, the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is no longer a tragedy, but a brave and poignant tale of love, loss, and ultimately fragile and beautiful hope.      

Sarah Ruhl adapts the myth in a variety of ways, but she particularly focuses on re-imagining and reframing the idea of the “looking back”.  In Ruhl’s Eurydice, the act of looking back is not a mistake, but an act of agency.  Eurydice, depicted by Ruhl, as a modern woman learning how to wield her own power, actually calls out to Orpheus as she follows him out of the Underworld.  Eurydice is the catalyst of this moment, and suddenly Orpheus’ decision to look back represents Eurydice’s choice to control her own destiny.  (I will let the production speak for the reasons Eurydice chooses to call out to her husband, for the actors can illuminate the nuances of this far better than I can.) Sarah Ruhl subverts the idea of looking back so that it becomes the moment that our heroine, Eurydice, embodies her full potential, rather than the moment in which she is simply a hapless victim to her husband’s tragic faux pas.

Sarah Ruhl continues to rebel against the traditional tale of Orpheus and Eurydice by reclaiming the idea of what it means to forget.  Traditionally, when a person died and descended into the Underworld, a swim in the River Lethe was part of the elaborate ritual of passage. The Lethe was the river of forgetfulness, and the Underworld was a place where all souls shared in their inability to remember anything or anyone from the earthly realm.  Therefore, not only was Orpheus forced to return to live out his mortal life without his love, but he was also the only half of the couple who was even aware of this great loss. Eurydice, having died a second death, was completely oblivious that she even had a husband or that he was torn from her life.  Once again, the classic version of the myth positions Orpheus at the center of the story as both the catalyst of dramatic misfortune and the main recipient of its consequence.

Just as Ruhl bestows Eurydice with the agency to cause Orpheus to look back and relinquish her once again to the Underworld, Ruhl allows Eurydice to choose to exist in a state of forgetfulness. Ruhl’s interpretation of forgetting is not one of punishment, consequence, or misfortune, but it is rather a symbol of acceptance and a coming to terms with circumstances.  Eurydice, as reimagined by Sarah Ruhl, chooses to forget so that she can finally be at peace. (Once again, I will not spoil the delicious reasons of Eurydice’s choice- come and see our production!)  Ruhl openly acknowledges that she wrote Eurydice in an attempt to come to terms with her profound grief over the death of her father; her reframing of forgetting as a relief rather than a burden perhaps indicates her personal feelings about moving past mourning into acceptance.

runs September 22-October 4th at Villanova Theatre. Call 610-519-7474 or visit for tickets! 

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