Over the last year or so, young playwright Sarah Ruhl has been “cursed” by receiving almost exclusively excellent press, even winning the MacArthur Genius fellowship in 2006. So expectations for Ms. Ruhl have been understandably high.
Ruhl’s Eurydice, now making its long-anticipated New York debut, is a modern adaptation of Ovid’s version of the “Orpheus and Eurydice” myth. The familiar storyline remains the same: On the wedding day of young Orpheus and Eurydice, Eurydice dies and goes to the underworld. Broken-hearted, Orpheus goes after her, and this being Greek tragedy, well, things don’t end happily.
There is something almost futuristic about this Eurydice. The colors are clean and bright, and the costumes are exaggeratedly modern. But it also manages to evoke a mythical world through its imploring language, compelling the audience to accept its strange surroundings and situations. Ruhl’s O. and E. are both naive and universal — one never really finds out “who they are” — and are bolstered by a cast that plays each role with seasoned skill (many of these actors have performed the parts multiple times). The play has a consistent rhythm, and it is not difficult to follow per se, but those less familiar with the source material might want to brush up on the basic plot points of the myth.
Within this classical exploration of pain and loss, Ruhl, most remarkably, is able to insert thoroughly modern meditations that feel plucked straight from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (note: this play was first produced in 2003). And even without intimate character portraits, or a clearly defined narrative arc, she still provokes a deep, gut reaction within the viewer. Perfect? No. Ingenious? Probably.