Review: Striking 'Eurydice' Doesn't Connect Emotionally

by Christine Malcom

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 8, 2021

A promotional photo from The Artistic Home's production of "Eurydice"
A promotional photo from The Artistic Home's production of "Eurydice"  

As the lights come back on in Chicago theaters after nearly eighteen months, The Artistic Home emerges from its "pandemic pause" with a production of Sarah Ruhl's 2003 play, "Eurydice." Director Kathy Scambiatterra and the cast offer a production that is visually and sonically striking, and makes effective use of an intimate space, but the play itself is somewhat challenging to connect with.

As the title suggests, Ruhl's goal in this retelling is to view the classic story not, as is usually the case, from the perspective of the greatest musician in the world, but that of the nymph who catches his eye. In the playwright's notes on the text, she further advises those portraying the couple as "a little too young and a little too in love."

This sets up a potentially interesting dynamic in the opening scene as the two talk past one another, each more in love with their deeply separate experiences of being in love than either is with the other. This production's Eurydice (Karla Corona) and Orpheus (Steven Cooper) manage to play the uncomfortable comedy of Ruhl's dialogue perfectly, but the text provides little opportunity to create intimacy or establish chemistry between the two characters before they're off brooding, largely separately, over their discontents with their post-wedding party.

This favoring of short, choppy scenes runs throughout the play, unfortunately, undermining much of the emotional momentum the actors manage to build. However, to the credit of Scambiatterra and the cast, they work exceptionally well with not only the play's pacing, but also with a potentially challenging space to convey the characters' literal and psychological movement throughout their journeys — though it must be said that blocking so many of the scenes with the actors on the floor constituted a sightline challenge for the audience.

Without much opportunity for scenic design beyond some strategic drapery and a low, deep, narrow stage that fills almost the entirety of the non-audience space, the production leans heavily on Kevin Hagan's lighting design and, particularly, on Petter Wahlback's excellent sound design to distinguish the worldly from the other-worldly.

Zachary Wagner's costume design also deserves special mention for smartly emphasizing the visual presentation of the Chorus of Stones. Their marbled togas and striking makeup enhance the excellent collaborative performance of the three actors (Will Casey as Big Stone, Alexander McRae as Loud Stone, and Ariana Lopez as Little Stone), and make for an appropriately hypnotic tableau.

Both Corona and Cooper fill the space with so much charm and charisma that one is left wishing the characters, both individually and as a couple, were less disjointed and more fully realized. For a retelling that purportedly focuses on the heroine, there's little to suggest what Eurydice's desires are, though Corona makes the most of the play's more patient moments.

Similarly, Ruhl relies on the audience knowing this is a great love story, rather than showing it to us, which leaves Cooper often at loose ends. He distinguishes himself, though, in a monologue delivered over the rushing sound of rain, where the musician contemplate the potential of sound — of a single note — to accomplish the impossible.

Javier Carmona, as Eurydice's father, seems to have the greatest success peeling back text that seems to favor the quirky over the real. In both his monologues and his work with Corona, he manages to introduce the emotional depth and continuity that the play itself seems to resist.

Todd Wojick is entertaining as both Nasty Interesting Man (more or less the plot device that leads to Eurydice biting the dust), and as the Lord of the Underworld. Both the gusto of his performances and more inspired costuming drew big laughs from the audience, and provided his cast mates with some stellar reaction opportunities.


"Eurydice"runs Thursdays through Sundays through November 21, 2021 at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. For tickets, visit www.thedentheatre.com or call 773-697-3830.

Christine Malcom is a Lecturer in Anthropology at Roosevelt University and Adjunct Faculty in Liberal Arts and Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a physical anthropologist, theater geek, and all-around pop culture enthusiast.