Greek drama lives!
Dawson Theatre’s Tragic Cycles I and II do justice to Anne Carson’s adaptations of celebrated Greek plays.
By Byron Toben
Former McGill professor Anne Carson is about to be honoured at the upcoming 2016 Blue Metropolis literary festival. It is coincidental that the second year drama students at Dawson used her adaptations of two of ancient Greece’s “fab four” dramatists to present a lively and challenging four play Tragic Cycle in an all too short run earlier this month.
The two playwrights were Sophocles and his 15 year younger contemporary Euripides. They both died in 406 BCE. Sophocles was really prolific, having written 120 plays of which only seven have survived. They both won the majority of prizes at the annual Athenian theatre festival awards. They are both well served by Dawson professors, who ably directed the effort, Carolyn Guillet (Cycle I) and Stephane Zarov (Cycle II).
Did you think ancient plays were musty? Well, au contraire, there were Pulp Fiction themes galore … incest, cannibalism, treachery, licentiousness, the list goes on. This gave reason for the student actors to vigorously yell and bemoan their fates as did their ancient predecessors. Actually, this led to our modern day vowels. Until then, written Greek, like Arabic and Hebrew today, had no letter vowels, but relied on dots and marks or implied context. But with a whole lot of shaking and yelling going on, the A E I O and U of it led to the letter vowels we enjoy today.
Did you think ancient plays were musty? Well, au contraire, there were Pulp Fiction themes galore … incest, cannibalism, treachery, licentiousness,
the list goes on.
In both Cycles, the audience was called upon to participate somewhat.
Cycle I focused on the intertwined stories of Orestes (Nicolas Courey) and his sister Elektra (Sarah Cooperman) as they avenge the death of their father Agamemnon newly returned from the 10 year Trojan war, at the hands of their mother Klytaimestra (Gita Miller) and her lover Aigisthos (Samuel Partous).
Cycle II focused on Hippolytos (Gabriel Mitchell), sent into exile by his father Theseus (Kaushihan Kanapathipillai) for rumours of incest with his mother Artemis (Catherine Saindon) as two Gods look on and manipulate, Aphrodite (Jazmin Illidge) and Apollo (Jonathan Valvono). (The cushy seats at Dawson were wonderful compared to the awkward collection of assorted throwaways at the 2012 Montreal Fringe walk up of this play which was also well acted, featuring Johanna Nutter as Artemis.)
This was followed by a comedic finish to the three other tragedies namely Alkestis (Elisa MacLeod) who gets to deal with Death (Pheres) (Briauna James) and strong man Herakles (Charles J. Labrie) as well as an inflatable female doll.
The ripples of Sophocles and Euripides have influenced in modern times, Eugene O’Neil (Mourning Becomes Electra). The other two great playwrights of that era were serious Aeschylus and playful Aristophanes (ancestor to G. Bernard Shaw?).
The Tragic Cycles closed on March 12.
Watch for Shaw’s contemporary Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance by the Dawson senior class April 11 to 30.
Images: Kelsey Litwin
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.