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Love, loss and the wisdom of stones – ‘Eurydice’

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From left: Holly Costar, Aimee Gerow, Jenny Hancock and John Siedenberg II in a scene from True North Theatre's production of Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice." From left: Holly Costar, Aimee Gerow, Jenny Hancock and John Siedenberg II in a scene from True North Theatre's production of Sarah Ruhl's "Eurydice." (photo by Chris Goettings, RCS Maine)

ORONO – A modern take on a classic myth is currently washing over an Orono stage.

True North Theatre is presenting Sarah Ruhl’s “Eurydice” at the Cyrus Memorial Pavilion Theater on the University of Maine campus. Directed by Tricia Hobbs, this reimagining of the Greek myth of Orpheus is running through June 30.

This play demonstrates once again the artistic flexibility and creative range of True North. While the company itself is still young, the people involved bring a significant depth of experience to all facets of the theatremaking process. Whether they’re tackling American classics like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or broad British farces like “Table Manners,” True North almost always hits its mark.

That trend continues with “Eurydice,” a play that is demanding both performatively and technically. It’s a piece with a tremendous amount to say about love and loss and the sacrifice that leads to the latter is often made in full service to the former. It is also darkly funny and unabashedly weird. A challenging work for sure, but as usual, True North proves fully capable of rising to meet it.

Two young people – Eurydice (Aimee Gerow) and Orpheus (Garrett Moyer) – are on a beach. Eurydice is wrapped up in the thinking of big thoughts, but her efforts to share them are largely swept away by the omnipresent music inside the mind of Orpheus. The two marry, but a chance encounter with a Nasty Interesting Man (Tyler Costigan) sends Eurydice down a tragic path.

In the Underworld, Eurydice’s deceased father (Mark Bilyk) – who has escaped the full forgetful effects of the river Styx and retained his memories – seeks to send letters to his daughter in the land of the living. But she’s not to be in that land for much longer.

Circumstances lead to Eurydice’s arrival in the Underworld (via elevator, no less). There, her father strives to reteach her about the world and help her remember who she is and what she stands for. However, the Lord of the Underworld (Jasmine Ireland) has their plans – plans that involve taking Eurydice as a bride.

But Orpheus, desperate for the return of his love, finds his way into the depths, where he strikes a bargain with the Lord of the Underworld – a bargain that he may not be prepared to keep.

And in the midst of it all, a chorus of grumbling Stones – the Little Stone (Holly Costar), the Big Stone (John Siedenberg II) and the Loud Stone (Jenny Hancock) – devoted to maintaining the status quo of the afterlife, discouraging anything that potentially departs from the way things are and have always been.

These sorts of modernizations/reimaginings of classic stories tend to be a mixed bag’ “Eurydice” is one of the good ones. Great, really – it’s a smart and sophisticated piece of theatre that embraces its influences while also being unafraid to become something new. There’s a … call it pessimistic optimism (optimistic pessimism?) about it; a celebration of our connections that is also an acknowledgement that those connections will someday be broken. Not to mention that it’s a killer story with some genuinely funny moments mixed in amongst the pathos.

Finding those moments of levity to balance out the bleakness is perhaps the most important task for any director seeking to tackle this piece. Hobbs puts her ever-growing directorial skill to work, managing the pace and tone of the play with a gently firm touch. Shows like this place certain demands on their audiences; Hobbs navigates things in such a way as to ensure the necessary accessibility while never retreating from the narrative’s fundamental challenges. It’s more excellent work from an artist whose talents continue to blossom before our eyes.

Aimee Gerow, as the titular Eurydice, gives a remarkable performance; she radiates virtue and innocence, making the instances of regret or fear all the more resonant. It’s thoughtful work that mines the subtle to find the sublime. Gerow’s work is the axis on which everything else rotates. Moyer endows Orpheus with a goofy charm shot through with preoccupation. Bilyk has a gift for evoking multiple shades of sadness – a gift he puts to good use as Eurydice’s father. Costigan’s transformation from oily sophisticate to almost-feral lackey is drastic and fun to watch. And Ireland slinks and slithers as the Lord of the Underworld, filling the space with an easy imperiousness.

The Stones, meanwhile, are a delight. Their sharp tongues and shared sentences create a constant feeling of synchronicity that casts a surreal shadow over the proceedings. Costar’s Little stone is shrill, while Hancock’s is brash; Siedenberg’s rumbling bass serves as a striking counterpoint. Each carries their own specificity, but they never lose that feeling of unity, a sort of three-become-one that is definitely no accident.

Hobbs – who doubles as the scenic designer – has an intimate understanding of this space and its capabilities. There’s a real aesthetic leap here, an expansion of what one might expect from such a small space. It’s striking to look at. Of course, a set this stylized makes particular demands of a lighting designer, but Scout Hough offers up more of the excellence we’ve come to expect. The sharpening and softening, the color shifts both stark and subtle – they are the visual foundation of the Underworld. Ireland is also the costumer here, creating a look that is both decidedly retro and vaguely timeless. And the sound design of Khari Blair is perfectly immersive; the soundscape they have created serving as an eerie underpinning.

“Eurydice” is another collective win for the folks at True North Theatre. Through their commitment to bold and varied choices, they are able to continue challenging audiences while also challenging themselves. There’s always an element of the unexpected to a True North production, but there’s one thing you can always expect – a theatrical experience of the highest quality.

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