EVANSVILLE - Even in death, Eurydice suffers short shrift in most versions of the Greek legend of Orpheus, the mythical musician who descends into the Underworld hoping to lead his beloved bride back to life.
Orpheus plays second fiddle to the title character in playwright Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice," the University of Evansville's first play in the 2012-2013 Shanklin Theatre season.
Eurydice is no mute, adoring follower in the lyrically imagined, fluidly staged, hauntingly beautiful 90-minute production presented without intermission by director Diane Brewer's team of actors, designers and technicians.
Natalie Rich portrays Eurydice as a fully-fleshed, contemplative character caught in the conflicting emotions she experiences, first as a bride, later as a deceased spirit reunited with her late father in the Underworld.
Eurydice's relationship with her father anchors this play, which Ruhl dedicated to the memory of her own father, who died when she was a young woman.
Aaron R. Johnson plays Father with a quiet, adoring devotion, penning letters of love and advice from the Underworld, dancing along as he witnesses her wedding, and helping her rediscover herself and their relationship after her memories have been washed away in her journey to the Underworld.
Albert Rubio's Orpheus is a quintessential artist who filters everything, from his love for Eurydice to his grief at her loss to his hopes to win her back, through his musical sensibilities.
The rest of the cast carries through the dreamlike whimsy and the classical Greek elements of the story with a quirky wit and surreal immediacy.
Ryan Wesen oozes leering, dangerous intensity as the Nasty Interesting Man who stalks Eurydice at her wedding. He brings a different kind of menace later, when he appears on a tricycle as the childlike the Lord of the Underworld.
And Amelya Hensley, Trenton Schneiders and Grace Theobald make a silly, chilly, stunning impression as the capricious chorus of talking stones who scold, advise and confound Eurydice as she navigates her journey through the Underworld.
The design team has created a mesmerizing canvas for this production.
Erich Renschler's spare, diaphanous scenic design juxtaposes abstract, impressionistic elements with startlingly surreal details. Patti McCrory's costuming reverberates the corporeal and the mythic realities of the story
Brian Gonner's fluid lighting shifts and Joshua Stallings' instrumental music composition and synthesized sound design underscore the water elements and images that flow through the production.
All those elements weave together in an engaging, bemusing and, at times, intensely transportive theatrical exploration of real, essential, universal human transitions.