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I will never pay to see a Sarah Ruhl play ever again. There, I said it. After a lot of ambivalence in the past, I decided that Eurydice, the latest Ruhl play to be staged in Chicago (Victory Gardens joins the ranks of its peers, the Goodman, which produced Clean House and Passion Play, and Steppenwolf, which mounted Dead Man’s Cellphone) would determine which Ruhl camp I’ll be pushed into. Eurydice, a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, but from her (instead of his) point of view, and with lots of other extraneous factors thrown in (like her father, who wasn’t in the original Greek myth, and a trio of curmudgeonly Stones straight out of a retirement home, who guard the entrance to the underworld) is insufferably precious, annoyingly dishonest, an intellectual’s abstract concept of the emotion of loss which doesn’t resemble reality at all. I lost my mom two years ago, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of what tremendous loss and grieving feels, and this play does everything in its power to subvert the evocation of those emotions in the audience. It’s quite simply the worst play I’ve seen this year, anywhere.

Eurydice is never able to successfully paint any sense of the inexpressible, exhausting, all-consuming feeling of losing a very close loved one forever – that indescribable mixture of memory, regret, hollowness, and mourning. Instead, you have cloying and artificial scenes like Eurydice and her father building her room in the underworld and trying to communicate in the language “of the dead, not the living”, or Orpheus writing notes to Eurydice in various positions while straddling or hanging off a ladder, or people coming into the underworld with huge umbrellas during a downpour (an image that doesn’t make sense at all, and is never really explained), or Eurydice‘s father mimicking the wedding march down the aisle, since he is dead and can’t attend the wedding. Watching this play is infuriating because if you’ve ever really encountered true grief and loss, you won’t be able to recognize yourself in any of the cardboard characters onstage. It’s infuriating because there’s so much talent (and money) wasted on a play whose intrinsic, unsalvageable problem is that it is a badly-written play: Sandy Shinner and Jessica Thebus, two Chicago directors I admire co-directed this dreck; acclaimed stage designer Dan Ostling put together a minimalist but expressive set (despite the very obvious fakeness of the beach background in the opening scene); and there are interesting performances from talented actors like Beau O’Reilly as the ruler of the Underworld (written and played as a prepubescent boy), and William J. Stone and Cheryl Lynn Bruce as two of the Stones. It’s infuriating because there are so many other playwrights, in Chicago or elsewhere, whose work deserves to be seen by an audience as wide as the Victory Gardens’ subscriber base. What is really pushing me over the edge is the fact that the critical hosannas continue for the work of a playwright who absolutely has nothing fresh or original to say to an audience (the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and yes, even the usually more discerning Chicago Reader- whose review comparing this thing to Beckett’s Endgame is just flabbergasting- all gave Eurydice highly favorable reviews), misleading audiences to spend their hard-earned dollar on this play when they could be spending it on something else (arts-related or otherwise). I have always taken the point of view of an audience member (albeit someone who has seen a lot of plays and knows a little bit about theater history and styles) in this blog, and that’s probably the difference between myself and a critic – I say it as I experience and perceive it, not because I am pushing anyone’s agenda.  I don’t have to jump on a bandwagon made up of vapors and smoke.

Eurydice runs until November 9 at the Victory Gardens Mainstage 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. I am not recommending this production.


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