Diane Brewer has always felt drawn to ancient greek plays, but that's not necessary to enjoy Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice," she says.
"This play does not at all feel ancient," assures the director for the University fo Evansville's first Shanklin Theatre production of the season. "It is in the present."
Characters appear in 20th century beach, wedding, and honeymoon travel attire; classic theatrical conventions take imaginative twists; and a chorus of stones helps the heroine navigate her passage into the Underworld in Ruhl's contemporary look at the Greek myth of Orpheus.
Rather than Orpheus, this play focuses on Eurydice, the bride who dies on the couple's wedding day, sending her grief-stricken bridegroom into the Underworld to retrieve her.
Aaron Johnson, a sophomore studying theatre performance at the Unviersity of Evansville, holds Natalie Rich during a scene between Father and Eurydice.
For Eurydice, death is not an ending, however. It is a transition that brings her back together with her late father, a character Ruhl added tothis story, and it makes her face the deeply personal choices.
This play draws on classical characters and classical staging, but interprets them in surprising, sometimes impossible ways.
"Things happen with doors that couldn't happen in real life — whimsical things," Brewer said. "And there are stage directions in this play that fundamentally, are physically impossible."
In one scene, Eurydice falls down 600 stairs, Brewer said. In another, "Orpheus throws her into the sky."
"I would rather let the production reveal that," she said.
The UE associate professor of theater history has relied upon students not only to play the characters, but also to create the atmosphere for a play that, she says, is set "here and there, then and now."
Brian Gonner, a senior from Dubuque, Iowam designed the lighting for associate professor Eric Renschler's scenic design, and Joshua Stallings, a senior from Floyd County, Ind., created the sound design and composed the recorded music.
Natalie Rich, a senior from Louisville, Ky., plays the title role, fleshing out a character who is "at the center of very distinct relationships with three very different men," said the director. In addition, to Orpheus and her father, she encounters a chracter drawn on the mythological figure of Hermes, identified in the play as "Nasty Interesting Man."
Nobody needs to know the classical story of Orpheus and Eurydice to appreciate the play, however, Brewer said.
"You just have to let yourself go for the ride and I don't think Sarah Ruhl makes that hard. I think the story stands on its own. These are real people with real relationships, stories, desires. It's just so human."
Above: Aaron Johnson tugs at the string attached to the ceiling of the Shanklin Theatre stage to make sure it is sturdy enough during "Eurydice" rehearsals on Friday. "Eurydice" is a very technical heavy show including many props, moving sets and lights requiring the actors to rearrange scenes on the stage during practices before the show opens on Friday.