If you could visit a deceased loved one, would you? That’s one question, among with many others, posed by Peppermint Creek Theatre Co.’s latest production, “Eurydice.” Sarah Ruhl’s script, along with Mary Job’s deft direction, blends a contemporary worldview and Greek mythology into a beautifully surreal exploration of life, death, loss and memory.
Based loosely on the ancient Greek myth, “Eurydice” — pronounced “yoo- RID-uh-see,” for those of you don’t remember your mythology lessons — follows the story of Eurydice (Sally Hecksel), the wife of Orpheus, who dies and goes to the Underworld, where she must drink from the River Lethe to forget her earthly existence. Before she drinks away her mortal memories, Orpheus (Michael Boxleitner) travels to the Underworld to try to bring her back. In this production, Eurydice reconnects with her late father (Jeff Boerger) and encounters a group of Greek chorus-like talking stones (Connor Kelly, Angela Dill and Veronica Gracia-Wing), as well as a “nasty interesting man” and the Lord of the Underworld, both played by Heath Sartorius.
While rooted in the Greek story, Ruhl’s script is more concerned with the imagery and poetry of the myth than the plot points. The production becomes a discussion about the relationship between death and memory and what it means to lose a loved one. It’s sure to strike a nerve with anyone who has experienced loss.
Job is the perfect director for this production, because she regularly stages classical productions like the works of Shakespeare in both traditional and contemporary settings. Here, she grounds her actors in earthly emotions, creating bonds between characters that feel like they’ve always been there. Boxleitner and Hecksel share a fun and whimsical bond that starts out playfully at the beginning and then grows more intense, driving Orpheus through his quest into the Underworld. Even more touching is Hecksel’s connection with Boerger. Moments like the father re-teaching his daughter to read are layered with humor, and the saddest moments come when each forgets the other completely, sitting like stones in silence.
The supporting and featured players often steal the show. Kelly, Dill and Gracia-Wing get the best laugh lines as the extremely vocal stones, explaining rules to the audience or to Underworld inhabitants. But Sartorius is absolutely magnetic in his two distinct roles. As the charming yet creepy “nasty interesting man,” Satorius lures Eurydice to his penthouse with a pompous and predatory gaze. Later, Sartorius rides a tricked-out trike on the stage as the Lord of the Underworld, a spoiled child with ultimate power. As a thin, young actor, Sartorious may not look physically intimidating, but his performances show how a performer can internalize and exude an air of privilege and power.
Despite its relatively small budget, some of the best aspects of this play are the production elements. Lark Burger’s costume design works wonders on the stones. Anna Szabo’s makeup design, which completes the look of the stones, could be described as “Victorian mime” — however you describe it, it’s effective. In addition to his acting duties, Boerger also designed the multi-level set. Blending jungle green netting and Chinese lanterns, as well as a twisted metallic fountain and gears powering an elevator door, this Underworld feels like the Upside Down from “Stranger Things” with a steampunk makeover. Supported by sound designer Bryan Ruhf’s eerie dripping water effects, Richard Chapman’s ethereal lighting design and ingenious props — like a floating umbrella bound with strings — and you have an imaginative and unsettling Underworld.
“Eurydice” Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. 8 p.m. Thursday, April 6-Saturday, April 8; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 9 $15/$10 students and seniors Miller Performing Arts Center 6025 Curry Lane, Lansing (517) 927-3016, peppermintcreek.org