Play of Mourning (Myself)
Elfriede Jelinek’s plays—strewn as page after page of block text—mount visual barricades of
written resistance against the two millennia-long tradition of European theater, a dramatic
tradition born by ancient Greek progenitors, all male. The Greek theater makers—from
playwrights to actors and theorists, from Aeschylus to Aristotle—poured rules of conduct into
beautifully constructed molds of dramatic composition. Jelinek’s Sprachflächen [“language
planes”]—these interminable masses of unrestrained, intimate flow of non-dialogic, undramatic,
frantic monologuing unaddressed to any particular interlocutor—spread over a vast verbal
territory that refuses the upstanding, climactic drama in its limitless, flat horizon of rage.
If all of Jelinek’s plays question what a play can be, Shadow. Eurydice Says, with its claws dug
into Greek mythology, wonders specifically, what can still be called tragedic, or at least tragic.
Does a woman’s death still inspire pity and fear, and if so, what kind of death? What is the
underworld today’s Eurydices descend into, and can an Orpheus follow? Will a hero entrance the
hell out of hell in the name of love?
Jessica Rizzo, the director of this production, put her ear to Jelinek’s text and heard many
women’s voices. Jelinek’s words flowing from her pen pour as vertiginously from the mouths of
nine experienced actresses: a choir, a Greek choir if you will. But a choir alone, especially an all-
female one, doesn’t amount to tragedy. In the Poetics, Aristotle recounts that tragedy was born
when the legendary Thespis, “stepped out,” whatever that means, of the choir: the dramatic
protagonist emerged. Thespis invented impersonation, acting, and drama as we know it. Prior to
the actor, the choir didn’t amount to a collective dramatic interlocutor and enactor, and was
merely a choir singing dithyrambs, odes to Dionysus, god of wine, fertility, beatitude: hymns to
life. Here, in Jelinek’s play, we have a choir of Eurydices in hell waiting for the acclaimed
songmaster and protagonist, for an Orpheus, for a Thespis, to “step onto” the stage, so dramatic
dialogue can begin, so the choir too can turn into a collective character and individual. Without
the protagonist, the choir of mere shadows keeps singing. A choir standing in as the negative
image of the ancient Greek one, wailing female hymnic lamentations not to Dionysus, life and
fertility, but to dying: a relentless funeral song. The Eurydice choir plays its own dirge. (Even
Chekhov knew the tragedy of female characters: “I'm in mourning for my life.”) The play is
waiting for the protagonist so theater can start. Meanwhile, Eurydice sings.
—Ilinca Tamara Todorut