In time for Valentine’s Day, a play arrives in Orlando to instruct us in the fine art of romance.
With Valentine’s Day arriving this month, how about a refresher course in love? And who better to teach it than the ancient Greeks with their immortal myths, which have shaped Western notions of romance for centuries?
As it happens, Mad Cow Theatre is presenting Eurydice through February 22. Written by Sarah Ruhl, the 2003 play retells the tale of Orpheus, the world’s greatest musician, and his beloved Eurydice (you-RID-ah-see).
What does this play have to say about love? Quite a lot, according to Denise Gillman, who’s directing the new production.
“There are so many acts in the play where we’re experiencing extraordinary moments of the power of love,” she says, during a break at a recent rehearsal. She was thinking partly about the scene her cast had just rehearsed, which establishes the intimate relationship between the title character and her most significant other.
As they played that scene, actors Sarah Jane Fridlich and Michael Kutner kissed, embraced and snuggled on an imaginary beach. They also quarreled a bit.
“Real love is that way,” says Kutner, adding that one of the story’s lessons is that true love must include friction.
“If the audience were to see us as happy and never arguing, they wouldn’t believe us as real people,” he says. Another lesson, muses Fridlich, is that love is always evolving.
“Someone’s chasing, and it always switches,” says the actress, whose big, bright smile and cloudy eyes reflect the contradictions within Eurydice. “Just when you get on that even level with someone, that other person falls behind and you have to chase after them. And it switches back.”
Yet another lesson, says the director, is that “love truly has the ability to transcend death.” Orpheus loves Eurydice so much, in fact, that he is willing to follow her into the Underworld.
Last year, in a New Yorker article, playwright Ruhl said that, for her, “love is through the eyes and that it’s very immediate, as opposed to modern and neurotic.”
And it’s true that in Eurydice, love attains a mysterious, timeless quality. (In the play, it should also be noted, Ruhl tweaks the classic myth by exploring the love between the heroine and her father, as well as romantic love.)
Other very specific lessons in love are found in the play’s dialogue, as when Eurydice explains how to treat Orpheus–and, by extension, offers advice about how you should treat your own valentine:
Be sure to comb his hair when it’s wet.
Do not fail to notice
That his face flushes pink
Like a bride’s
When you kiss him.
Give him lots to eat.
He forgets to eat and he gets cranky.
When he’s sad,
Kiss his forehead . . .
“These are the observations of someone who really loves that other person,” says Gillman. “Universal and very specific—and also very simple.”