‘Eurydice’ Set to Create Other-wordly Atmosphere

Emma Dahl

Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

The most recent production at Harper Joy Theater, “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl, is the classical Greek story of Orpheus’s descent into the underworld, but from his wife Eurydice’s point of view.

According to Assistant Professor of Theater Greg Mitchell, Whitman’s theater department has taken some big artistic liberties with the set design to create a physical structure that represents the descent into the underworld.

“We have diverged in bold and significant ways from what Sarah Ruhl suggests and the tenor of choices most productions of this play make,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell explained that the set has been designed over the past year and built over the past month or so. The atmosphere of the underworld, where the majority of the play takes place, is strained and unusual.

“The underworld is sunken. It is without path, direction or place, in contrast with the above world. The atmosphere is uncomfortable in the underworld if it is heady and nostalgic in the above world,” he said.

By endeavoring to create such a dynamic and different space, Mitchell and the staff of Harper Joy Theater were met by a slew of technical difficulties. He mentioned that plumbing was one of the challenges the team had to overcome. In the past, “Eurydice” productions have featured rain in the underworld set. He discussed huge ramps and suspended walkways, and a new unconventional seating arrangement for the audience.

Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

“[The] custom-built audience arrangement put[s] patrons up to 17 feet in the air. [It’s] so complex and unconventional we had to apply to the city for commercial building permits just to construct it. I would venture to say it is among the most daring and complicated sets we’ve ever done in the renovated Harper Joy Theatre,” said Mitchell.

The play follows Eurydice through her accidental death on her wedding day and traces her journey through the underworld, where she finds her deceased father, and––spoiler alert, if you’re not familiar with the Greek myth––ends with Orpheus’s doomed attempt to rescue her. Eurydice’s father is a character invented by Ruhl, put there to create a decision for Eurydice to make: should she return to the land of the living with her husband-to-be? Or is her relationship with her father more important?

The play has a potent and contemporary message despite its ancient origins. Its themes are centered on love and loss, the strain between familial and romantic relations and which deserves more attention.

“Eurydice” runs from Wednesday, April 15 to Saturday, April 19 at 8 p.m., with additional matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are general admission and are free with a Whitman ID.

Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

Editor’s Note April 28, 2014 2:59 p.m.: This article has been updated to indicate that the staff of Harper Joy Theater work for the theater itself, and not for any specific individual.