“Eurydice” twists the classic tragedy of Orpheus by giving its neglected female protagonist a voice.
Although the original myth follows the Greek hero’s quest to the land of the dead to rescue his muse Eurydice, this modern adaptation reunites Eurydice with her deceased father. The play, told from Eurydice’s perspective, reaches its climax when she must either choose to stay in the underworld with her father or return to the land of the living with Orpheus. The 2003 Sarah Ruhl play opened July 12 and will run until July 22 at the Theatre of Arts Arena Stage in Hollywood. Director and UCLA alumna Roshni Shukla said the play modernizes the myth by focusing on a woman’s ability to choose her life’s direction.
“(Eurydice) is pushed to have to make the toughest decision of all – which is that of her own life – in a world that’s constantly making those choices for her,” Shukla said. “I think today if you look at it in retrospect, (women) still are fighting to be considered equals in this world, to have a few more opportunities, to make sure those decisions are in fact fully our own without any societal construct over them.”
While the play is not set in any specific year, Shukla said the societal pressures that limit a woman’s autonomy are similar to those of the 1940s. To hint at the World War II era, the play features dances like the jitterbug and includes musical references to wartime songs like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” which was meant to persuade soldiers’ sweethearts to remain faithful while they fought. Eurydice also wears a simple, 1930s-style light blue lacy wedding dress that falls just above the knee, embracing the period’s traditional expectations for women’s fashion.
The vernacular of the characters further alludes to the 1940s, with Eurydice calling Orpheus a “silly goose” and with her father telling stories of duck hunting, displaying his masculinity through an activity considered stereotypically male during that time period. Shukla said the references might feel antiquated to modern audiences, but the play’s language is much more accessible than that of the original myth, applying relatable vernacular to the familiar struggle for female autonomy.
“When you follow (Eurydice’s) journey, I feel like in some way she becomes really the woman she was meant to be under unfortunate circumstances, which is a very strong person who takes control over her own destiny,” Shukla said.
In contrast to the overt period references in music, language and costuming, the sets remain minimalist, with no furniture. The abundance of empty space allows the actors’ movement to tell the story, said scenic designer and UCLA alumna Yuki Izumihara. The stage is not divided into a mortal dwelling and underworld; instead, the two realms occupy the same space. When designing the set, Izumihara said she focused on conveying the feeling of incompleteness from the minimal scenery to mirror Eurydice’s own lack of closure in her relationships with Orpheus and her father. The set features a bare scaffolding and a semicircular lake, inspired by an image of a guitar sinking into a body of water.
Throughout the play, water acts as both a connection and a dividing force between the living and the dead. When Eurydice is in the mortal world, she mentions she is thirsty, which Shukla said is representative of her craving her deceased father, wanting what she cannot have. Though Eurydice is Orpheus’ muse, he does not understand the passion for language and philosophy she shares with her father, causing Eurydice and Orpheus’ relationship to have an unstable foundation, actor Mariana Kaniho said. The men in her life are either impossible to have a relationship with while she is living, or leave her feeling unsatisfied or manipulated.
Kaniho also said Eurydice is misunderstood and taken advantage of by the men in her life, with Orpheus’ decisions being motivated by his music, and the deceptive character Nasty Interesting Man who lures Eurydice to her death being driven by lust. Kaniho said Eurydice’s trusting nature allows her to be manipulated by the Nasty Interesting Man, as she willingly follows him after he claims to have a letter from her late father. Only Eurydice’s father keeps her best interests at heart, Kaniho said.
Shukla said she views “Eurydice” as an exploration of the complex relationship between fathers and daughters, demonstrating how they might engage with or show affection to one another. Shukla said Eurydice’s choices feel predetermined by forces outside her control, except her final decision to determine the course of her own life. Regardless of the political messages the audience takes away, Shukla said she finds hope at the end of the play in the fact that Eurydice takes control over her own destiny.
“(Eurydice) has to choose one or the other and in the end, she doesn’t get either,” Shukla said. “These things are sometimes out of our hands. We think we have these choices but they’re not really our own.”