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A beautiful “Eurydice” at the Writers’ Theater

If Sarah Ruhl’s beautiful new production “Eurydice” is any guide, artistic director Braden Abraham’s new term Writers Theater in Glencoe will feature elegant, beautifully conceived productions of works filled with passion, longing and regret. Good for him. I think the Sadık Writers Theater audience will appreciate this.

I last watched “Eurydice”, based on the Greek legend, at Victory Gardens Theatre. in 2008, when this Evanston-raised playwright was all the rage in American theater, even if his hot-centered writing style didn’t spark much outrage. The legend of “Orpheus and Eurydice” also appears here. “Hadestown” The Broadway musical is another example of how this ancient legend has obsessed writers and other performers for centuries.

From where? This is primarily the story of immortal love in Orpheus (Kenneth La’Ron Hamilton). He loves his dead bride Eurydice (Sarah Price) so much that he travels to Hades to find her. When she does this, her love so moves the Lord of the Underworld (Larry Yando) that he allows Eurydice to leave with her lover, making his decision conditional on Orpheus not looking back to check if the woman he adores is following.

And here is the heart of the story, a core full of paradoxes.

Is this act of looking back an expression of lack of trust, an insecurity that is easily exploited by those with bad intentions? Or is it to make sure that the lover has the most sacred duty of care?

In “Eurydice,” Ruhl looks not only at the relationship between Eurydice and Orpheus, but also at the relationship between Eurydice and her dead father (John Gregorio). In the underworld, Eurydice is able to see her father again, even if she has to endure the whining of the play’s Greek chorus (also known as the Stones) (who are played dryly by John Lister, Elizabeth Ledo and Susaan Jamshidi). If you look from his father’s point of view, as Gregorio expresses so beautifully, he experiences both the indescribable happiness of being with his daughter again and the indescribable pain of losing her twice. And that’s where the emphasis seemed to lie in Abraham’s production, though that might also be a function of where a recently empty-nester critic is currently obsessed.

Such is the appeal of these timeless myths; they bend and change shape depending on where the watchers and listeners are in life. This kinetic feeling is embodied in Courtney O’Neill’s decor; a magnificently sculpted design, a steeply sloping embankment extending downwards, of course, but doing so in a way that hints at the possibility of escape. Every visual moment here has been thought through to the smallest detail, and the pacing is pretty perfect.

Susaan Jamshidi, Elizabeth Ledo, Sarah Price and John Lister "Eurydice" at the Writers' Theater in Glencoe.

Abraham’s production benefits from a truly lovely central performance from Price, whose acting is raw and engaging, bringing both honesty and grit to the show. Valuing Eurydice and believing in the life-affirming nature of her relationship with both her father and Orpheus is crucial to the play. If you’re going to invest in their loss, you have to believe in what they have. And so do you.

The moment when Lord decided to let Eurydice go, and the “why” of that choice, wasn’t entirely clear to me in Friday’s opening, and I think Price and Hamilton lost the joy of their characters’ relationship over the trauma of her eventual loss. This situation will definitely deepen as this production progresses.

One last thing. On Friday I thought about all the high school students who lived near this suburban theater and probably thought it was for their parents. However, this series is as much a work for teenagers as contemporary American drama is. It’s only 80 minutes, looks fresher than “Romeo and Juliet,” and for my money, it’s worth a sweet date that could unlock so much of life.

Theater Cycle

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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

cjones5@chicagotribune.com

Review: “Eurydice” (3.5 stars)

When: Until October 22

Where: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe

Working time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Tickets: $35-$90 at 847-242-6000 and www.writerstheatre.org

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