SDSU takes a musical tryst to the underworld

by David Dixon

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 Courtesy of Zwink Photography

Courtesy of Zwink Photography

The 2010-2011 Season of Plays and Musicals at San Diego State has so far been entertaining, lighthearted escapism. Now comes “Eurydice,” a relatively modern retelling of a Greek myth that is hard to categorize. With plenty of humor, bleakness and deliberately vague existential ideas, “Eurydice” can be described as a comedy masked as a tragedy, vice versa, or something completely different.

Orpheus (Justin Hobson) is a nerdy and talented musician who proposes to his innocent girlfriend, Eurydice (Sophia Ethridge). Thanks to some odd circumstances involving a “Nasty Interesting Man” (Chris Wollman), Eurydice dies after falling from a high-rise apartment building. Some time later, she finds herself in “The Underworld” and reunites with her loving father (Shane Blackburn).

Back in “The Overworld,” Orpheus is still grieving over the loss of his partner. He vows to find and rescue her, by any means necessary.

Ethridge leads the cast with an array of emotion. She can be both remarkably happy and frightenly sad, at different points. Hobson has moving chemistry with Ethridge and captures a sense of utmost determination in his attempt to save the person he loves most. Blackburn gives an expressive performance in his depiction of Eurydice’s father. Sarah Ruhl’s creative script, coupled with Blackburn’s believability as a man who is grateful to spend more time with his daughter, makes the play a story about romantic love as well as family.

Wollman is a source of comic relief as the Nasty Interesting Man and as the Lord of the Underworld. His scenes have a creepy undertone because of his blatant physical attraction to Eurydice. The role asks him to act differently every time he appears, for reasons that will become clear within the context of “Eurydice,” which is a tribute to his versatility.

Audience members need to watch their step when entering the Experimental Theatre. At the bottom of the stage lies a 1.5-inch deep basin of water representing what director C.J. Keith calls a “wet, dripping, musty and dank” underworld. The water also depicts a “river of forgetfulness,” which erases memories of the deceased. There is also a nicely constructed and effective mock elevator used by several characters as they enter the land of the dead.

Courtesy of Zwink Photography

Courtesy of Zwink Photography

The script from Tony-nominated Ruhl is audacious and verbally unique. Even though “Eurydice” follows the original legend of Orpheus fairly closely, she writes with an attention to human interactions and a knack for making fantasy appeal to those who prefer realism.

The conclusion makes “Eurydice” hard to concretely define in terms of its genre. Without spoiling the events, it is fair to say Ruhl adds more to the ending than was originally told. What happens is tough to describe and will cause some debate on what the finale means.

“Eurydice” is a strong presentation from the School of Theatre, Television and Film. Though the play may be hard to pigeonhole into a specific genre, it only makes the work more profound and original.

Information about “Eurydice” can be found on theatre.sdsu.edu.

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