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  • More Invisible Terrains
  • Sarah Ruhl (bio) and Wendy Weckwerth

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Figure 1.

Orpheus in the raining elevator in Eurydice, directed by Richard Corley. Madison Repertory Theatre, Madison, Wisconsin, 2003. Photo: Brent Nicastro

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WENDY WECKWERTH Eurydice has been presented at Brown University, Vassar College, the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, and Madison Repertory Theater. How did those encounters with the play shape its development?

SARAH RUHL Its first professional production was at Madison Rep, directed by Richard Corley, and the others were workshop productions and readings. I certainly was rewriting after the workshop productions. It also had, I think, fourteen staged readings. It was a long, long road in development. By the thirteenth reading I didn't change a word. I don't know how much the script actually changed between the seventh reading and the thirteenth reading. Probably not a lot. But the artists I met along the way definitely opened me up, opened up the possibilities of how I thought it could be staged. For example, at Children's Theatre Company, Rebecca Brown and Darron West directed a reading in the Jimmy Jingle Building with nothing but four red chairs and a door they painted red. No lights. They did an amazing production, but there was no budget. Madison was the first time that people paid for their tickets. When Rebecca and Darron did it in Minneapolis, the Stones became a kabuki-style chorus orchestrating everything that happened in the underworld. The Stones made it rain in the elevator by pouring water on people. In the Madison production, though, we actually had money to have a raining elevator. The set designer, Narelle Sissions, was brilliant and translated every word onto the stage. But after the Minneapolis production, I also know that the play can be done in a really simple, bare kind of a way.

In an early stage direction you describe the world of Eurydice as "more Alice-in-Wonderland than Hades," and you create a vivid visual world reminiscent of the associative logic of Alice in Wonderland. The raining elevator and the room of string come to mind.

I honestly don't remember where the raining elevator came from. I remember seeing it clearly when I was first writing the play. I knew that Eurydice arrived in this raining elevator. I think it's something about contemporary alienation: the experience of going to the underworld involves an alienation or unfamiliarity. Not in a devilish or horrible way, but in a contemporary way. Like when you go to a mall and you're in an elevator. It smells funny and it's tinny. Then you walk out and you're in a corporate hell. I was thinking about that sort of moral neutrality in the underworld I was creating. The Greek underworld wasn't really punitive; it wasn't Dante's Inferno. It's not fun to be Sisyphus, but you don't have the same kind of Christian idea of damnation. [End Page 29]

In another stage direction, you ask the actors playing Orpheus and Eurydice to "resist the temptation to play 'classical.'" What idea of "classical" do you want them to avoid?

I guess playing it "classical" means playing the idea of anything, which is always less fruitful than playing the experience of it. Playing with your arms akimbo, or howling in a "Greek" way, rather than just playing it truthfully, which is what I would ask actors for with any of my plays. In the opening scene of Eurydice, for instance, there is a sense of epic. But I also think it's important that they're just two young kids at the beach playing a game. There is an intimacy or truth inside their grander epic narrative—the one that we're so accustomed to. I wanted to find a way into that sense of epic that was more ordinary, more personal. So the style is not Zoë Wanamaker wailing over a mask in a Broadway production, although that is amazing in its own right. But because we have an idea of the Greeks that's an arm's distance away, I wanted the...


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