The Truth in Possession: Are Weddings Really for Fathers and Daughters?

eurydice_graphic-_cred_michael_brosilowBy Emily Witt, Staff Writer
Picture Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

The theme of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice is possession. An analysis of The Theatre School’s recent production of Eurydice leads to interesting questions about the patriarchal aspects of the play itself. Eurydice’s line, “a daughter stops being married to her father on her wedding day,” is striking, thought-provoking, and problematic. How does this overarching theme support the idea of a woman’s ownership being transferred from her father to her husband on her wedding day? The very act of a father “giving away” his daughter is oppressive. We are not objects to be given away or owned. One has to wonder if Ruhl’s meditation on the relationship between a husband and a wife, juxtaposed with the relationship between a father and daughter, is a critique or if she is choosing to ignore the implications altogether.

Ruhl’s play is a modern day take on the mythological Greek tale: Eurydice, Apollo’s daughter, steps on a viper and dies shortly after marrying her husband, Orpheus. The story follows Orpheus as he attempts to bring Eurydice back from the dead by playing her beautiful music. Ruhl’s play abstracts the basic elements of the traditional tale, relying heavily on dynamic, smart, and clear decisions from a director in order for the piece to retain meaning. Eurydice can fall into the trap of becoming a fanciful play with beautiful costumes, set, and poetic language that is void of a clear dramatic question or fully-rendered characters. Ruhl has brilliantly given us only some of the components to craft a beautiful piece of theatre, but she has not completely put the puzzle together for us. Michael Burke, the director of The Theatre School’s recent production of Eurydice, undoubtedly achieved palpable character relationships that served to drive the theme of the play throughout the production.

Ruhl unmistakably makes a statement about men and women’s traditional roles in society. We see the possession between lovers, the possession within parental relationships, and the possession between women and men. In the end, this need for possession is Eurydice and Orpheus’ downfall.

Recognizing the differences between Eurydice’s relationship with her father, juxtaposed to her relationship with the other men in the play, begs the question if whether or not Ruhl is actually setting out to prove Eurydice wrong about her belief that weddings are for fathers and daughters.

Each male character in the play struggles to possess our protagonist, Eurydice, and, because of this, she must find who she is as an individual, separate from the way she relates to the men in her world. Humans are possessive by nature, but a key aspect of the play is to show the ways in which men possess women, women possess men, and the positive and negative aspects in each. Orpheus, Father, and Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld, all have their own tactics in possessing Eurydice.

Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld’s intentions to possess Eurydice for himself further coaxes Eurydice to stay with her father. This attempt at possession is the very catalyst for our inciting incident. She would not have fallen to her death and arrived in the Underworld if A Nasty Interesting Man had not beckoned her to his apartment by promising a letter from her father.

Eurydice’s undeniable struggle is to possess her Father and Orpheus while fighting to possess her own autonomy from them. The Nasty Interesting Man/Lord of the Underworld also competes to possess Eurydice, by offering her what he believes to be an exciting life. There is something distinctly unique about the power dynamic between Eurydice and her father, because although he wants her to be with him, he does not seem to view her as an object that he has the right to keep or possess.

The Father does not try to hinder or help Eurydice make a decision as to whether she should stay in the world of the living or the dead. Orpheus attempts to possess her by reminiscing and writing her a song, but this only seems to guide her towards her father by highlighting their incongruence in rhythm figuratively and literally. Orpheus’ staunch criticism of her lack of rhythm seems to illustrate their incompatibility and shows the audience why Eurydice must stay with her father. It seems here that Ruhl is showing us that parental love has a type of unconditional strength that can never be matched.

We end in the Underworld. Eurydice has chosen to stay with her father and to forget Orpheus. Ruhl’s choice for Eurydice to choose her Father, the only character that does not attempt to own her, holds great significance. To look at the genesis of the relationships and conclude that Ruhl is simply illustrating the unconditional love of a parent is highly reductive. Whether she intends to or not (which she probably does since she’s literally a genius according to the MacArthur Foundation), Ruhl succeeds in making a vital critique about the inherent transference of ownership that traditional wedding ceremonies support. Ultimately, Eurydice is owned by no one.

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