Water, one of the classical four elements, is vital for our existence. Without it, almost all the plants and animals inhabiting our planet will soon wither and die. Life itself arose from those massive reservoirs of free-standing water we call oceans.
Yet it is also the great destroyer. Over time, the rains will wear away the mightiest of mountains and dig the deepest of canyons. And water can eventually erase or dissolve anything that life has created.
Our memories are like water. They flow along the rivers of our thoughts; sometimes comforting or helping, sometimes hurting. They fill the nooks and crannies of our minds to help us cope with our daily existence. But they can seep away, deserting us just when we seem to need them the most.
In her retelling of the classic Greek tale Orpheus, Sarah Ruhl takes the perspective of the musician’s wife, Eurydice. Upon her death she descends into the underworld passing through the river Lethe and losing her memories. She is greeted there by her father, who has somehow managed to keep his memory intact, and thereby, maintains the ability to communicate. He gradually reactivates her human language and her past memories.
Meanwhile, the bereft Orpheus schemes for the return of his wife from the land of the dead. He finally descends, still living, into the underworld to retrieve his bride. As her father convinces Eurydice to go back to the land of the living, Orpheus strikes a deal with the Lord of the Underworld to lead her out of the underworld with one condition; he cannot look back to gaze upon Eurydice again until they have left the underworld. He then sets off for the surface with his wife following behind.
This is the tale of a woman and the relationships she has with the men in her life. As we travel along with her, we hear the water acting as the rhythmic background for the song of Orpheus. It rains and flows, nurturing the memory of what is now a part of the past. It is a tale of love, and loss, with tears as souvenirs of those remembrances.