Confetti Stage’s “Eurydice” Calls Out From Beyond To Be Remembered
Sarah Ruhl’s very popular 2003 play “Eurydice” is currently working its charms on the fourth floor of the Albany Masonic Lodge. It is a favorite of colleges across the country and has recently been adapted into an opera by Matthew Aucoin that opened at L.A. Opera this week, headed to the Metropolitan Opera next year. Sarah Ruhl, the Pulitzer Finalist and Tony nominated playwright works her own idiosyncratic angle on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth which has been told dozens of times in many forms, currently represented on Broadway in “Hadestown.” Orpheus (Sean Baldwin) is the gifted musician who is taught the lyre by Apollo and attempts to retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice (effervescent Emily Fernandez), from the Underworld. Sarah Ruhl focuses on Eurydice and invents the character of her father (David Rook) and the piece becomes a meditation and exploration on memory, loss and language. It is about communicating with those we love while they are still with us and how does that communication change or continue after one of them dies. Ruhl had lost her father before the play’s writing and the play is dedicated to him.
Laura Darling, the director of this piece, who had a great success last season with Confetti’s production of “Emilie” takes a hand’s on, detailed, waste no opportunity approach to her craft and her sets in particular are evidence of that. You enter the theater through a hall adjacent which is papered with hundreds of letters and missives. A memory wall from the production staff and audiences reaching out to those who had gone. I’m afraid we didn’t have time to read them as we were late to the theater negotiating the ice storm Friday night and were quite pleased and surprised to see such a large crowd already there when we entered. It is a testament to this director and Confetti Stage that they can take such an unconventional piece on a sad topic and create a happening out of it, drawing a crowd to downtown Albany on a miserable night. Well done!
The set is an artful jumble of rocks constructed (some with masks embedded) and what looks like beams sticking out at odd angles. It is reminiscent of a waste land after construction and reminded me of Ground Zero. Everything is in dark shades of gray or black and the stage itself far upstage had a beautiful, gauzy seafoam curtain where real life took place in the Upper World. There was much sound of water throughout the night and might have been a small pool stage right. It was impossible to tell being in the fourth row with no rake to the audience or stage. Laura is assisted once again by Brian Starnes with sound design and Nick Nealon doing his irreplaceable job as Confetti’s lighting designer. Kathryn Capalbo ran lights, Joseph Plock and Jennifer Bart ran crew and the cast got an assist credit for almost all the categories, including the costumes which were quite witty across the board, my favorite being a toss-up between Orpheus’s Misfits t-shirt or Big Stone’s fascinator.
The evening starts out with four letters read by cast members not written by Ruhl which give an off-kilter start to the play. There were long stretches of darkness between the readings and nothing happening. Perhaps, it was a metaphor. Once the play proper begins, we are treated to the young lovers on a sunny beach. They quickly move towards marriage and at her wedding, Eurydice goes home to a skyrise with a Nasty Interesting Man (the commanding Alex Grandin with a deep, pleasing voice) and falls to her death down a flight of stairs. If that sounds abrupt, its not far off from what actually transpires in the play.
Once in the Underworld she is reacquainted with her father and must learn again how to talk with him. There’s a lovely scene of her trying to read a letter with her feet or by biting it. Emily Rae Fernandes is delightful in this role and it would be hard to imagine it done without her. She has the right amount of pluck, danger and deep feeling to make us care what happens, even after she dies. David Rook gets more comfortable onstage with each succeeding role. He returns to Confetti where he was so good in “Seascape” and does a heartwarming job tutoring his daughter in the ways of the dead.
Eurydice’s father reminds her of their family and teaches her words (which I understand had a real-life antecedent) “ostracize,” “peripatetic” and “defunct.” They read “King Lear” together with Rook taking on “We two alone will sing like birds in a cage.” That was a lovely echo of Confetti’s triumphant “Lear” with George Filieau playing the scene with Vivian Wilson-Hwang from a few seasons back. These scenes are the heart of the play, you will wish they were longer if your tear ducts can take it and are well worth the price of admission. Meanwhile, aboveground Orpheus prepares for his journey. Sean Baldwin is saddled with the evening’s most onerous task, the boyfriend role and this one wracked with grief. He’s got quite a few scenes preparing for his journey to the Underworld which turns out to be a comically brief visit once he arrives. All night he’s referred to as a great musician but we never see evidence of that. I feel ya.
Also, in the Underworld are the three stones-Big Stone (Marissa Reimer), Little Stone (Laney Iris) and Loud Stone (Maghen Ryan). They are a chorus of warnings and commentary on the action. They get the first big laugh of the evening and they are always welcome, in fact, you wish there was more of them. I mean, come on, these three need more to do! Peter V Miranda plays the Lord of the Underworld, entering incongruously in a leather jacket and shades on a tricycle. He is properly sly and sneaky.
There are dozens of black-outs with nearly thirty scenes in the play which tests the limits of the minimal production values at Confetti. There is great imagination in the set, music, costumes (not so much, the use of eye make-up) but with so many scene changes, it could be a bumpy night in a fully equipped theatre. For me, there were too many stage effects that needed a designer’s eye and acuity which were simply beyond Confetti’s limited resources in this space. The evening goes by quickly enough but there are many bumps with this unconventional piece. Still, there are great fans of Ruhl’s writing and this piece and Darling and her cast are fully equipped to tell this intriguing tale. When Fernandes and Rook are learning to speak of the all-encompassing-love they have for each other, it is more than enough to justify an evening of theater. I’ll leave you with a Ruhl from the evening, “You should learn to love your families until grapes grow dust on their purple faces.”