Review: Shotgun Players presents ‘Eurydice’ by Sarah Ruhl (****)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Megan Trout and Kenny Toll as Eurydice and Orpheus in Shotgun Players production of Sarah Ruhl's
Megan Trout and Kenny Toll as Eurydice and Orpheus in Shotgun Players production of Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice.” Photo Credit: Pak Han.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

It is a constantly lamented fact that in the world of American theatre, women playwrights are shortchanged. When the creative team at Shotgun Players heard of a controversy about a major American company announcing a season that would not feature even a single female playwright, they decided to step up and do something, making the declaration,”We all have a way of working to make the world a better place. Theatre is ours.” Then they announced that for the 2015-2016 season they would exclusively present plays by women. So far this season, they have given us enthusiastically received productions of Anne Carson’s dance theatre take on Antigone (“Antigonick”), a world premiere by Marisela Treviño Orta (“Heart Shaped Nebula”), and a revival of Caryl Churchill’s ever popular, “Top Girls.”

Currently, they are taking on another retelling of a classic Greek myth, Sarah Ruhl’s poetically charged “Eurydice.” Sarah Ruhl has emerged over the past decade as one of America’s leading playwrights. She writes that her decision to tell the tale of Eurydice’s descent into Hades was inspired by her desire to have a few more conversations with her deceased father. In the play, Eurydice encounters her father, but is unable to communicate, for she can only speak the language of the dead. Language, its seductive power, its limitations, its life giving and life-depriving powers is the central theme of Ruhl’s play. But, in this production, the language of words is matched by an extraordinary language of images.

“Eurydice” opens with a sensuous erotic dance between Eurydice and her lover Orpheus, excitingly performed by Megan Trout and Kenny Toll. By opening the play with a dance sequence, rather than words, director Erika Chong Shuch puts the visual aspects of the play up front and center. The images become the language of the dead, which is the language of vision and memory, at least as powerful as words. This is followed by their wedding, which is a trial for Eurydice who wants it to be over so she can be alone with her husband. Slipping away for a quiet moment, she is found and enticed by the mysterious Nasty Interesting Man, who lures her away from the wedding to what he promises will be a much more interesting party, with interesting people. In a moment of surreal poetry, he tempts her with a letter from her dead father. Puzzled, intrigued, confused, seduced, she follows him to the Underworld. As we all know, her husband Orpheus, stricken with grief, follows in desperation to bring her back to the world of the living.

The 90 minute production (played with no intermission) is a surreal, dream-like exploration of an unconscious landscape peopled with the dead, awash in memory, moving in and out of coherency, frightening and comforting at the same time. The vision of the underworld incorporates dance, music, snippets of poetry, humor, and horror to take us on a phantasmagoric adventure.

Sean Riley’s remarkable set, full of vision and metaphor, is central to the experience. Incorporating, among other evocative images, scaffoldings, doorways, balconies, clanging metal buckets and water, his other worldly pictures are as effective as cinema. Erika Chong Shuch’s staging is equally astonishing, more choreographed than blocked. The actors, too, present strong visual images: Eurydice struggling with the language of the dead, caught up in a silent scream; her father (James Carpenter, excellent as usual) living his after life in a bureacratic hell, marching to the orders of an invisible master; the beautifully sensuous Orpheus, full of life in the land of the dead; the disturbingly imbalanced Nasty Interesting Man; and a chorus of talking stones.

Eurydice has the sticking power of a vivid dream. It will seduce you, then startle you awake.

“Eurydice” plays at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley through October 4, 2015. For futher information click here.


“Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl, produced by Shotgun Players. Director: Erika Chong Shuch. Assistant Director: Emma Nicholls. Technical Director: Chris Swartzell. Set Design: Sean Riley. Light Design: Allen Willner. Costume Design: Christine Crook. Properties Design: Devon Labelle. Sound Design: Matt Stines. Original Music: Nils Frykdahl. Additional Musical Arrangements: Beth Wilmurt.


Big Stone: Jeannine Anderson. Father: James Carpenter. Nasty Interesting Man: Nils Frykdahl. Loud Stone: Peter Griggs. Orpheus: Kenny Toll. Eurydice: Megan Trout. Little Stone: Beth Wilmurt.


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