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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 76.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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University Theatre's daring Eurydice brings mythology alive, in all its weirdness
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Dylan Munzy as Orpheus and Morgan Boland as Eurydice  in University Theatre's <i>Eurydice</i>.
Dylan Munzy as Orpheus and Morgan Boland as Eurydice in University Theatre's Eurydice.
Credit:Brent Nicastro

Certain productions really drive home the point that University Theatre is a lab not just for actors and directors in training, but also talented costumers, set designers, sound designers and others who help fully realize the world of a play.

Eurydice, UT's latest offering, is just such a production. This playful, surrealistic retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is visually and aurally inventive, which helps the audience suspend disbelief and enter this strange world.

As imagined by acclaimed young playwright Sarah Ruhl -- a Pulitzer finalist and the winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant -- Eurydice presents us with a chorus of talking stones; an elevator to the underworld; an anarchic, magenta-Converse-wearing Lord of the Underworld; and many more fantastical elements. Of course, the Greek myth itself works on a level of fantastical poetry, but Ruhl disrupts the haze of academic propriety that often surrounds mythology. She makes it alive again, in all of its weirdness.

Eurydice (senior theater major Morgan Boland), who dies on her wedding day to Orpheus, is torn between the husband she left behind and her dead father, with whom she becomes reacquainted in the underworld.

Decked out in a series of 1950s-inspired costumes designed by Emily N. Smith (a retro swimsuit, tea-length wedding dress, and a flared, crinolined skirt), Eurydice is winsome and innocent -- perhaps a little too much so. For while Ruhl's play shifts the myth's focus from Orpheus to Eurydice, she still seems rather passive and childlike. It's hard to tell exactly where the responsibility for this lies, in Ruhl's script, Molly Richards' direction, Boland's performance, or some combination of the three. Boland, however, is a likable actress with a fine comic sense.

As Eurydice's father, Pete Bissen has perhaps the most poignant role. Though Eurydice loses her memories when she travels to the underworld, her father has regained his over time, so he's acutely aware of what he's lost. Bissen invests the role with a fatherly tenderness that grounds his scenes.

The more outlandish, wacky characters inject welcome absurdity. The trio of stones (played on Friday's opening night in UW's Hemsley Theatre by Ryan Williams, Kuamojua Lee and Heidi Hansfield) are fabulous. I never thought I'd have to single out a rock's performance, but Hansfield as the Loud Stone, with her piercing declamation, is wonderful, and Smith's costumes for the three are works of art (as is Katy Lai's clever, hard-working set).

Jason Townes has a ball as the bullying Lord of the Underworld, who makes an entrance, to blaring heavy metal music, on a souped-up trike with a flame job. He's comically menacing, coming on to Eurydice by telling her she needs "a man with big, stupid hands like potatoes" instead of sensitive, musical Orpheus (the solid Dylan Muzny).

Overall, as written by Ruhl and directed by Richards, Eurydice is an intriguing brew of tones, styles, language, and images. While its take on love, loss, memory and longing is sometimes a little too abstract to feel truly moving, it's also daring, light on its feet and terrifically absurd. It's a fine choice for UT and well worth seeing.

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