There’s a temptation with the big stories, say a Greek myth, to embrace the epic, larger-than-life quality. After all it’s a myth, right?
Take playwright Sarah Ruhle’s “Eurydice”.
Remember Orpheus and Eurydice? Orpheus looses his young bride to an untimely death, then chases her to the underworld where he makes a literal deal with the devil to get her back. She’ll follow him back from the underworld but if he looks back, even once, she’ll die another death.
Okay, that’s pretty epic.
But what if it were played as a simple story of a young couple?
That’s how City Garage tackles “Eurydice” and it’s shocking.
Ms. Ruhle’s script hints at this simple approach. Orpheus and Eurydice aren’t the idealized, mythic couple. In fact, Eurydice is a little pissed that everytime she asks what her man is thinking - he says “music.”
But at the same time, Ms. Ruhle’s script has grand theatrical gestures: an elevator to hell with pouring rain, a house made of string, and three characters called the Stones.
It’s evocative stuff and in the other productions I’ve seen these images are powerful. City Garage captures none of this.
But… rather than a fault of the production, it’s oddly it’s strength.
We hear these images evoked but there’s a sort of beautiful simplicity to the production which makes it feel like a story of a couple who just happen to be dealing with the underworld. Rather than epic, it feels oddly, awkwardly human. It’s a Greek myth scaled down to human proportions.
Instead of an all too perfect tragic love story between an untouchable young couple, it becomes the story of a woman who has a creepy guy hit on her on her wedding day.
Then she’s meets her father in the underworld as he struggles to provide a room and a language to his confused daughter. Rather than a grand scenic gesture, her room made of string feels like a dad just trying to do his best by his child. As he teaches her language, it feels less like she’s been dipped in the river of forgetting and more like a dad taking care of a beloved daughter.
It’s simple, it’s quiet, it’s deeply personal.
This isn’t a “Eurydice” that’s going to wow you. It’s more of a simple tale the gets under your skin.
Even that mythic escape from hell and tragic second death feels less operatic and more like a squabble between a young couple.
Eurydice calls out Orpheus’ name and he turns around - sealing their fate. But it plays like a husband asking his wife why she turned right at the Arco station, again!?!
While this “Eurydice” sidesteps the grand gestures what it gains is simpler story of a woman who’s facing a hostile world with a husband who’s distracted, a man who keeps harassing her, and a world filled with rules to keep her life small.
City Garage’s take is far from perfect but it lets you hear the play and taps into a vein that feels honest and a bit raw.
“Eurydice” plays at the City Garage Theatre in Santa Monica through September 22nd.
For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theatre newsletter with my pick on what to see in LA now, check out KCRW.com/theater.