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Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice offers the Orpheus myth from the typically neglected woman's point of view — and much, much more in the Wilma Theater's visually and aurally fascinating production.
As in her most famous work to date, The Clean House, Ruhl explores death with insight and wit. Instead of following heartsick Orpheus (Benjamin Huber) as he rescues his dead bride from the underworld, we watch Eurydice (Merritt Janson) orient herself with the help of her father (Stephen Novelli), who, unlike most dead people, still remembers his life.
Much of Blanka Zizka's stunning staging unfolds in silence, as when Father constructs a room for his daughter using strings suspended from balloons. His efforts to help her regain her earthly memories suggest the potential for a meaningful life after death — an existence that's meant to be bland and blank, according to a Greek chorus of Stones (Gene D'Alessandro, Erin Reilly, Cathy Simpson), black-and-white-clad Beckettian clowns who glower and growl from beanbag chairs.
We see Eurydice and her father together more than we do her and Orpheus, perhaps a Freudian view of their close relationship; Eurydice's famous "second death," when Orpheus turns back and sees her while leading her from the underworld, might be her deliberate choice.
Also telling is Eurydice's inability to appreciate Orpheus' music — expressed through composer Toby Twining's evocative, abstract vocal score (sort of Philip Glass meets Gregorian chant), performed live from above the stage. We appreciate the widower's yearning, but does Eurydice?
Devilishly toying with Eurydice, the Lord of the Underworld (Triney Sandoval) proves more comic than menace, circling Eurydice on tricycle and bicycle — but his mischievousness helps explain (better than the myth) his arbitrary order that Orpheus not look back.
While Mimi Lien's elegantly sloped set and Oana Botez-Ban's nifty costumes — sharply lit by Tyler Micoleau — complement the action well, all flows through Janson's childlike Eurydice, a mesmerizing mystery of a person powerfully illuminated by Novelli's heartbreaking performance as her lonely father. Theatrically bold, slyly comic and emotionally devastating, Eurydice ends the Wilma's 29th season on an artistic high note.
Eurydice Through June 1, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., 215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org