O’Hanlon’s Eurydice Visually Stunning, Wholly Unforgettable


John Seyfried

The design of the stage provided a stimulating and visually engaging backdrop for a superior production.

EJ Dickson, Arts Editor

When you see great theater, there’s usually a moment — a monologue, a scene, a particularly well-orchestrated costume change — that compels you to take a breath, sit up in your chair, and acknowledge that you are witness to something that can only be described as — to the chagrin of ninth-grade English teachers — “interesting.” Some people feel this way when they see Hamlet’s speech to Yorick, or the final scene in Death of a Salesman; Others feel this way when they see the Green Goblin get tangled in his wires during the Broadway production of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.

Last weekend in Hall Auditorium, I felt this way during a scene from Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, in which the father of the titular character (Assistant Technical Director David Bugher), after reuniting with his daughter in the Underworld, makes her a house out of string, which falls from the sky like gumdrops. As Bugher wordlessly, painstakingly and lovingly wove string around the stage (who knew so many adverbs could be associated with playing with string?), it happened: The moment that I realized I was seeing something infinitely superior to whatever Bono and the Edge could pull out of their knighted, self-righteous asses.

In one silent and visually arresting moment, I realized that I was watching something curious and urgent and wholly unlike anything I had ever seen at Oberlin before, and this feeling did not dissipate throughout the entirety of Eurydice’s “interesting” 90-minute run.

Indeed, Eurydice’s “interesting-ness” is quite befitting of a play that addresses being “interesting” over all other virtues; In fact, Eurydice’s desire to meet “interesting” people is what drives the action of the play. Directed by SITI Visiting Artist Barney O’Hanlon, Eurydice is a lyrical adaptation of the Greek myth of Orpheus (College junior Aaron Profumo), as told from the perspective of his childlike bride (College senior Kat Lee). The hunky, dimwitted Orpheus must rescue his beloved from the Underworld after she is abducted during her wedding party by the “interesting” Nasty Interesting Man (screamingly played by College junior Jacob Myers as a cross between Patrick Bateman and Zero Mostel).

A gorgeously muted, multi-leveled set designed by SITI Company Visiting Artist Brian Scott framed the action as Eurydice descends into the land of the dead, only to realize that her father (Bugher) has been awaiting her arrival, resisting the urge to rid himself of his memories by taking a dip in the river of forgetfulness (represented by a brilliant pool of light center stage).

Forced to become the bride of the Lord of the Underworld (also played by Myers) and flanked by a chorus of Stones (gray-faced apparitions clad in Father Knows Best–era apparel), Eurydice must choose between her old home with her father and her new home with the husband she so deeply loves.

As Eurydice, Lee gave a radiant performance as a naïve young woman trapped in extended adolescence. Impeccably costumed as a 1940s ingénue by designer Chris Flaharty, Lee played Eurydice with a curious winsomeness that transcended the usual one-note portrayal of the neurotic young woman as love object (a Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl archetype typified by the Zooey Deschanel character in (500) Days of Summer, or the Zooey Deschanel character in pretty much anything).

In PacSun board shorts and a wife beater, Profumo provided a perfect counterpart to Lee’s Eurydice as the dimwitted but lovable Orpheus, playing the role of the emotastic, floppy-haired musician to a hilt. His puppyish demeanor brought the script’s more florid imagery back down to earth, and his Dawson Leery-esque sensibility was well-suited for the play’s more comic moments. A scene in which the newlyweds dance to Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” could easily have fallen flat with a 2011 audience; However, Profumo and Lee looked like they were having so much fun onstage that it was impossible not to be right there with them.

As both the Nasty Interesting Man and the Lord of the Underworld (imagined in O’Hanlon’s production as a Ritalin-addled youth on a scooter), Myers delivered a crude and uproarious performance, crashing into set pieces and commanding attention like a third-grader on a Dunkaroos sugar high. And the chorus of Stones, stiff and silent onstage throughout much of the performance, managed to steal the show without even speaking, garnering laughs with their grotesque physicalities and the awkwardly choreographed line dance to ELO’s “Telephone Line.”

The sound design (also by O’Hanlon and Scott) served as a stunning performance in its own right, deliberately collapsing temporal boundaries by juxtaposing electronica with 1940s big band, or classic rock with indie pop that sounded as if it had been directly lifted from the soundtrack of The Hills.

Flaharty’s spectacular costumes also contributed to the production’s sense of timelessness, contrasting the contemporary garb of Orpheus and the Lord of the Underworld with the turn-of-the-century dress of Eurydice’s father —who, in his dapper hat and waistcoat, was vaguely reminiscent of Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins, albeit with a more impressive handlebar mustache.

Yet even with a uniformly outstanding cast, a superb set design and seamless direction, it was Bugher’s gentle performance as Eurydice’s father that was ultimately the most memorable aspect of the production. As the father who reunites with his long-lost daughter only to have her immediately taken away from him, Bugher dealt with his loss as only a father could, quietly burning with anguish as he guided his daughter back toward the land of the living. His grief served as a constant reminder that we die a little death each time we say goodbye to a loved one, and not even the maudlin coos of Imogen Heap could detract from Bugher’s restrained, yet deeply affecting, performance.

“How does a person remember to forget? It’s difficult,” Eurydice’s father muses toward the end of the play, a darkly funny observation that is, like much of Ruhl’s dialogue, made all the more poignant by its brevity. Judging by the audience’s standing ovation at the end of the final show on Saturday, it will be difficult for Oberlin theatergoers to remember to forget Eurydice.

But maybe, if we are very lucky, we will see another production, in Hall or Wilder or Philips or our roommate’s friend’s girlfriend’s basement or wherever, and there will be another moment — a musical number, a snatch of dialogue, an inspired bit of improvisation over a bungled line or set change — that forces us to sit up straight and acknowledge that we are watching something interesting; Perhaps then, remembering to forget will be a little less difficult.