Sarah Ruhl & Scott Bradley


Project: Write the stage direction and create the set for the play Eurydice

A Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Best Play Tony nominee, Ruhl wowed theater-goers in 2003 with Eurydice, a playful, heartbreaking reinterpretation of the Orpheus myth that announced her as one of America's most visually inventive playwrights. For the play's 2004 run at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, designer Scott Bradley brought to life to a dazzling underworld—and a fanciful elevator that could transport Ruhl's characters to it. Here, the two describe the creative collaboration, beginning with a single stage direction.

Watercolor: Scott Bradley

RUHL: I have a visual imagination, but not a three-dimensional imagination. In the original Greek myth, Eurydice gets dipped in the River of Lethe and she forgets every­thing. I wanted to find a contemporary metaphor of transportation. But it had to be strange. I also wanted there to be water onstage, but I wanted it to be patchy, since memory bleeds through in the way that drops of water are just partial.

BRADLEY:I lost my partner about a month before I read Eurydice. After I read it I had a dream that I met up with my partner. I was in an elevator, and I saw the elevator fill up with water. When the doors opened, it was like a big exhale of tears. I woke up and made a watercolor of what I’d seen. I sometimes do watercolor renderings of set designs, because they help me imagine the colors and the lighting.

Photo of set: Daniel Talbott appeared in Eurydice at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Photo: Ken Friedman.

RUHL: It’s pure pleasure for me to sit in a room with designers and to watch them interpret my plays. When a set is moved onstage for the first time, it’s just magic. For Eurydice, I think Scott struck a balance between the grief in the play and the beautiful, playful fairy tale that is the myth.

BRADLEY: We used a 300-gallon tank of water to flood the elevator cavity, along with pressurized rain pipes from above, so when the doors opened, it was a little six-foot-square box of storm. For me, that conveyed the physicality of crying after a horrible event. It was like unlocking a door that I could step through and experience what I was longing for, which was a conversation with the person I lost.

—As told to Nicole Allan