EURYDICE // UA THEATRE BRINGS THE UNDERWORLD TO LIFE // REHEARSALS

Braving the underworld to save a lost damsel may be the stuff of myths, but did you ever wonder what the damsel was doing that whole time? In Sarah Ruhl’s play, Eurydice, we see the story from beyond the grave, and the University of Alabama theatre department is bringing it to the stage starting Feb. 16.
Matt Davis directs the play as the last step in his Master of Fine Arts degree in directing at UA, and he promises that the show will be “all about the otherworldly.”
Naomi Prentice, a junior at UA, and David Nicholson, a freshman, star as Orpheus and Eurydice, the main characters in the ancient tale. As the story goes, Orpheus is a world-renowned musician who ventures into Hades to save his wife, but he can only save her if he leads her out without turning to look back.
Alas, Eurydice’s beauty is too overpowering. Orpheus cannot resist one glance, and Eurydice vanishes to die a second death.
“There are some changes in this version, especially the end,” Prentice said. Nicholson said the twist gives Eurydice more action in the final scene, and that she isn’t just a prize for Oprheus to win with his divine talents.
“It’s a feminist appropriation,” Nicholson said. “It shows Orpheus’s flaws a lot more. In the myth he’s more of a god and everyone wants to hear his music.”
Ruhl’s version also adds a character that complicates things for Eurydice: her father. Played by UA senior Anthony Haselbauer, we see him write letters to his daughter and pretend to dance with her on her wedding day, all alone in the land of the dead. When Eurydice reunites with him, she isn’t so sure about choosing her husband’s love over the love of a family.
There are more striking changes in the stage version as well. The lord of the underworld rides around on a red tricycle. An impish chorus of stones creeps around the stage. A raining elevator wipes away memories when new residents arrive.
What will really throw people off, the actors agreed, is the dialogue.
“Some parts make it very abstract, and some of the dialogue will sound like almost nonsense,” Nicholson said. “Kids who need credit for their class are going to come and go ‘what did I just watch.”
“But years later they might have an a-ha moment and realize what it all means,” Prentice said. “Like, ‘Oh that reminds me of this weird show I saw in college for my fine arts class.’”
Parts of the show are so open to interpretation, that even the two stars aren’t on the same page as to what it all means. Nicholson said he thinks some lines aren’t supposed to mean anything at all, and that it’s more like “watching pieces come together.”
“I think every line is there for a reason,” Prentice said, disagreeing with Nicholson. “We’re not here to entertain, exactly. We’re here to make you think.”
Despite the sometimes-difficult nature of the script, Davis aims for the show to be captivating, and to engage the audience through the movement on stage.
“Movement influences the mind as much as the mind influences movement,” Davis said. “It’s part of the human condition. When people are in a room together they start breathing the same.”
Before rehearsals, Davis has the cast warm up by “radiating” their movements, or sending their energy outward so that the audience can feel it. The idea comes from Russian director Michael Chekhov, a figure Davis has studied extensively and incorporated into his craft.
“The methodology of Michael Chekhov states that all honest human interaction is psycho-physical,” Davis said. “And that in order to present and develop character honestly, we have to consider how our connection to our body helps to inform the decisions we make, and the way that we present ourselves to the world.”
In the small space of the Allen-Bales Theatre, every motion and expression is apparent to the audience, and it makes for a much more intimate type of production. The sounds of water dripping into a buckets and kitchen utensils whirring all pierce through the enclosed space. The glowing stage seems to fill up the room.
Though Orpheus and Eurydice are worlds apart, on stage she is just a few feet away.
“I spend a lot of time on top of the platform, because that represents the world of the living,” Nicholson said. “[Orpheus] doesn’t really understand much of what she’s going through. He’s really in his head.”
As we watch Orpheus pine away over his heartbreak, we see Eurydice grow closer to her father, and take comfort in the memories they share. You start to see why Eurydice might not want to be brought back to life, Prentice said.
“We all started out with simplistic ideas of our characters, but we’ve found that they’re more complicated than we originally thought,” Prentice said. “The more I read it, the more I realized that the love between Eurydice and Orpheus is more of an infatuation, rosy-eyed glasses thing.”
Audiences might be surprised that no fire and brimstone greets the dead in the play, just a splash of water on the head and long stretches of boredom.
“It’s not like Hell in Christian mythology where you go there and get tortured,” Prentice said. “You just go there when you die. You still work and everything, it’s not that different from being alive.”
By the end of the play, many people will be sympathizing with Eurydice, making the final scene all the more tragic.
Prentice says she is looking forward to watching the dress rehearsal when her understudy performs, and that she encourages anyone to come even if they aren’t familiar with the original myth.
“It’s definitely an aesthetic show, and the set makes everything very magical and mysterious,” Prentice said. “If you come for a reason, you’ll definitely find something different.”
Eurydice will be showing Monday Feb 16 through Saturday Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m., with a final show Feb. 22 at 2 p.m., all at Allen-Bales Theatre. Tickets are available at ua.tix.com, and theater-goers are encouraged to purchase in advance.

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