The marvelous, mythic Eurydice at the Alliance Hertz Stage serves as a kind of unofficial sequel to Georgia Shakespeare's equally luminous 2006 and 2007 productions of Metamorphoses. Georgia Shakespeare artistic director Richard Garner helmed Metamorphoses, a lively, accessible adaptation of Ovid's myths, including the tale of Orpheus, who descended into the underworld to rescue his deceased bride, Eurydice.
Garner also directs Eurydice for the Hertz Stage, but playwright Sarah Ruhl takes fascinating liberties with the ancient tale, compared with Metamorphoses' more traditional take. The story's outline remains the same, as beautiful Eurydice (whom Melinda Helfrich plays as a charming naïf) dies on her wedding day, and Orpheus (Justin Adams) tries to reunite with her by playing music that can open the gates of hell. In one of the play's puckish modern touches, Orpheus first attempts to contact Eurydice from beyond the grave by dialing directory assistance.
Eurydice delivers its message of valuing your life and loved ones while you can without becoming a morbid bummer. Quirky humor emerges from the petulant Chorus of Stones (Neal A. Ghant, Paul Hester and especially Courtney Patterson) as well as the silly but sinister Lord of the Underworld, whom Andrew Benator plays as a peevish pipsqueak in a bright red schoolboy's uniform. Kat Conley's set envisions the land of the dead as a concrete wasteland suspiciously similar to the Alliance's own parking deck.
Although Ruhl retains the tragic romance, Eurydice's heart lies in the title character's relationship with her father (Chris Kayser), who's already dead but happily greets her in the underworld. Ruhl's own father died of cancer in 1994, and the playwright has reinterpreted the myth as a remarkably touching ode to father-daughter love. In one of the play's glorious, dialogue-free sequences, the father crafts a room for Eurydice by unspooling string and wrapping it around metal supports until he creates a kind of cat's cradle the size of a play house. Directed with wit and respect by Garner, Ruhl's Eurydice turns out to be a similar creation to that house of string, at once delicate, whimsical and lovely beyond words.
Eurydice. Through April 13. $30-$35. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5000. www.alliancetheatre.org.
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