Walking Shadow heads to the Underworld

Andrea San Miguel as Eurydice.
Andrea San Miguel as Eurydice.
Image courtesy Walking Shadow Theatre Company
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If you are not familiar with the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, here it is in a nutshell: The two are madly in love. On their wedding day, Eurydice is bit by a snake and dies. Orpheus goes to the Underworld to bring her soul back, and he almost does it.

Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice follows the basic backbone of the ancient Greek tale, but the playwright adds her own details to the mix, including a father figure for the title character and a Hades that resembles an outlandish playground.

It was those touches that drew Walking Shadow Theatre Company to present Ruhl's version of the story, which opens this weekend at the Pillsbury House Theater in Minneapolis.

"This adaptation really puts [the story] on its head. It's told from Eurydice's perspective. It's more about her relationship with her father and the past and present," says Paris Hunter Paul, who plays Orpheus.

The father character becomes an important factor in Eurydice's journey. "There is something for her to stay in the underworld," said director Amy Rummenie. "This one introduces a choice that the original myth never had.

Dan Hopman, the "Nasty Interesting Man" in the piece, didn't know the myth or the play. "Something that really surprised me was when I read the synopsis, it is really a modern play. It is so modern on its take on the relationships and the family stuff... It can speak to any era."

Those changes provided extra material for Andrea San Miguel to work with in her performance as Eurydice. "It's great to see it from her perspective," she says.

In the story, the characters have been dipped in the River Styx and have lost most of their memories of the world. "I am approaching it from a childlike perspective. She has to relearn what love is," Miguel says.

Orpheus is "a man of few words and many emotions, which he explores musically," Paul says. He is thinking a lot of thoughts that may be mostly colored with music. I'm not usually that type of person. My mind is always racing. It's been a real interesting experience to play a character who is a little softer. I tend to play characters who are fighting for things."

The play's themes of loss -- both in death and in memory -- cuts close to the cast members and the director.

"There is a significant amount of loss in the people working on the project, so it makes it very personal to people," Paul says. 

That includes director Rummenie, who lost her father to Alzheimer's. "I saw the play once and I was a wreck. I left it alone for years. I had to wait until I could look it in the eye," she says.

"What I find beautiful about this play is that it is a world of its own. We are invited to come into Sarah Ruhl's mind and just appreciate the beauty of a world that is unlike our own," Miguel says.

"It's not a realistic world. There's a chorus of sentient rocks," Rummenie says. "If you want a playful show about death, you've found it. Orpheus' story is heartbreaking, but Ruhl still finds things that can be humorous. The view of the world is so askew you can't help but be charmed by it."

"It's lovely and weird," says Hopman, whose character -- it must be noted -- carts around on a tricycle. "There are really odd images, and there are moments that are so so lovely and moving. It's a really interesting blend."

Friday-Sept. 29
Pillsbury House Theatre
3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
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Pillsbury House Theatre

3501 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404



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