All roads lead to the end


It was a long, nasty elevator ride—and all the buttons were labeled “down.”

It was a long, nasty elevator ride—and all the buttons were labeled “down.”

River Stage

8401 Center Pkwy.
Sacramento, CA 95823

(916) 691-7364

Rated 5.0

Sometimes an artist who has enjoyed a notable, long, successful run decides it’s time to go, and very consciously declares, “The end.” Shakespeare did it with The Tempest.

And that’s what Frank Condon, who has directed an astonishingly strong sequence of shows under the River Stage banner over the past 16 years, does with Eurydice, playwright Sarah Ruhl’s updated, fabulist reworking of the classic and tragic Greek myth.

The basics: The beautiful young Eurydice dies suddenly, and her heartbroken lover, Orpheus, goes to the underworld to beg for her release. There, he performs music so moving that Hades agrees to let Eurydice return to the land of the living—on one condition. During the trip back, Orpheus must look only ahead. If he looks back to check on Eurydice, all is lost and she returns to the underworld, which is, of course, exactly what happens.

Ruhl plants the story firmly in the present day and relates the tale from Eurydice’s point of view. She is transported to the underworld in an elevator (with rain falling inside it), and she’s initially quite confused. What with the talking stones, the petulant Lord of the Underworld and other things that don’t make logical sense, there’s a kinship to Alice in Wonderland, but at the very dark end of the spectrum.

Condon takes this strange situation and develops it into one of the most aching and memorable expressions of grief and loss this critic has seen on the stage. Eurydice (beautifully played by Destiny Robbins) is reunited with her father in the underworld (Paul Fearn, in a well-measured, compassionately paternal performance). But Eurydice also wants to be with Orpheus (the curly-haired Spencer Tregilgas), and all paths inevitably lead to loss in this one. The talking stones (Eric Alston as Big Stone, Joshua Carranza-Vic as Little Stone and John Hopkins as Loud Stone) provide a sarcastic chorus, while the unstable Lord of the Underworld (a scowling and smiling Earl Victorine) periodically intervenes.

The resulting production is the polar opposite of the Sacramento Theatre Company’s recent Tuesdays With Morrie, in which a wise old professor faced his impending death with acceptance and uncommon good sense. Eurydice, by contrast, offers a vividly clear—and hallucinatory—plunge into the agony and loneliness of the final, unalterable farewell.

For Condon, Eurydice is also a successful venture in an unexpected new direction. In the past, his strong suit has been directing socially conscious plays that no one else in town would stage, illuminating American history and political trends, including stories about labor organizers and strikes, political activists, the military-industrial complex, racial minorities and the like. Along the way, Condon gave us the best local productions of several oft-staged scripts, like The Laramie Project and Urinetown.

Eurydice is not an absolutely perfect show—this unconventional script isn’t working the usual linear wavelengths in terms of storytelling, and not everything clicks during the initial scenes. But as the show hits its stride—it unfolds in a little more than 70 minutes, without intermission—the momentum that develops is powerful, and the visceral final scenes are awesome. It’s a memorable farewell from a director who’s given us many fine shows through the years.