Jump In, Feet First:  Cycles and Growth in Writers Theatre’s Eurydice

Eurydice and Orpheus begin with bare feet. They are at the beach, about to jump in. They are lovers and you can feel it– they kiss and tussle and banter. Then, Orpheus gets down on one knee and they jump in, feet first. 

Eurydice is a play about life cycles. The lovers are separated by Eurydice’s sudden death on their wedding day. A stark beginning with a starker end. She reunites with her father in the underworld with no memory of who he is. She must relearn everything she once knew. A rebirth. And the cycle begins again.

When Eurydice enters the underworld, by way of an elevator that’s raining from the inside, she enters in shoes. It’s striking because even at her wedding she was barefoot. Her feet are covered and her memories are gone. And I wonder, is there something about touching your bare feet to the world (or… underworld) that connects you to yourself? 

Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton, Sarah Price in Eurydice at Writers Theatre, photo by Michael Brosilow

Braden Abraham indulges in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice for his premiere production at Writers Theatre as the Artistic Director. A play that is rooted in the essence of Chicago, where Sarah Ruhl lived her childhood with her father, for whom this play is written, is a safe choice for someone planting new roots here. The production is Eurydice at its best; it plays out on stage exactly as it reads on the page. It feels like a perfect ode to Ruhl’s text. 

Plays themselves have life cycles, too. There’s this interesting thing that happens within the lifespan of a play. Especially a beloved, frequently produced work. The first handful of productions are to establish the play exactly as the playwright intended it, and to build its own place in our theatrical zeitgeist. After this has been achieved, the next vital stage of the play’s life is the remix. It’s the world’s opportunity to take the play beyond its intended time/space/setting and into the present and future. 

I believe Eurydice is in that second stage of its life. And this production was perfectly executed for Eurydice’s first stage of life. It had heart and love and care. It was exactly what I’d expect when seeing a lovely production of Eurydice. From now on, I’m craving for my expectation to be subverted. 

Courtney O’Neill’s sweeping and transformable set justified the swift changes in locale between the underworld, to a pay phone on the side of the highway, to a wedding, to a sky rise apartment on the top floor, and beyond. Eurydice’s room in the underworld is made of string, and has a door defined by a single hanging thread. That little thread carved the entire environment of the underworld, and made Eurydice the guard of her own threshold. Danielle Nieve’s careful costume design is what guided my journey through Ruhl’s world– you can track the character’s stories through what is on their feet, and upon what they tread. 

Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton embodied Orpheus’ urgency to find his beloved with earnestness and care. It’s easy for Orpheus to come off as a background character in Eurydice’s story with her father, but Hamilton brought him right to the foreground. 

When Orpheus enters the underworld after losing Eurydice for the second time, he, too, enters via elevator. He, however, rides barefoot. Rain pouring onto his feet, soaking him everywhere. As he exits, he sees a letter left to him by his wife. Not understanding, he lays it on the ground and stands on it. Orpheus ends where he began: barefoot. He is also beginning this new chapter, the chapter of death, in the same way Eurydice began the play: barefoot, and desperately trying to understand. 

The cycle always has a way of continuing. Each time a new cycle passes, its significance grows. Parallels are made between characters. Ruhl makes sure of it. I hope that same cycle and compounding growth can continue for future productions of Ruhl’s Eurydice. 

Father– John Gregorio
Orpheus– Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton
Loud Stone– Susaan Jamshidi
Little Stone– Elizabeth Ledo
Big Stone– John Lister
Eurydice– Sarah Price
Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld– Larry Yando

Director– Braden Abraham
Scenic Designer– Courtney O’Neill
Costume Designer– Danielle Nieves
Lighting Designer– Marcus Doshi
Sound Designer– Jeffrey Levin
Properties Designer– Rae Watson
Movement Director and Choreographer– Tonya Lockyer
Intimacy Director– Micah Figueroa
Casting Director– Katie Galetti
Assistant Director– Acadia Barrengos
Stage Manager– Katie Klemme
Assistant Stage Manager– Kate Nagorski
Casting Assistant– Jasmine B. Gunter
Technical Director– Adam Veness
Interim Costume Supervisor– Ryan Magnuson
Lighting Supervisor– Raphael Grimes
Audio & Video Supervisor– Amanda Hosking
Master Carpenter– Carl Herzog
Scenic Paint Charge Artist– Trenton Jones
Draper– Beth Uber
Costume Crafts– Melissa Bochat
Assistant Properties Designer– Meghan McGrath
Wardrobe Supervisor– Gabrielle Lux
Deck Crew– Olivia Sullam
Light Board Operator– Molly Garrison
Sound Board Operator– Isabel Gable
Light Board Programmer– Meike Schmidt
Photography – Michael Brosilow

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