In September, The Classical Greek Theatre Festival presented by Westminster College
will mount and tour a new production of Sophocles’ tragic masterpiece Women of Trachis, a play rarely read and infrequently seen in performance. Here is a brief synopsis
of the play’s plot:
Because of her beauty, Deianira, the wife of Herakles, had been sought by many suitors.
One of these, the centaur Nessos, was killed by Herakles, who then claimed her as
his bride. Years later she and her children are exiles in Trachis because of an act
of violence by Herakles. Alone now for over a year, she wonders what has become of
Herakles and sends her son Hyllos to find out. News arrives that he has conquered
the city of king Eurytas in Euboia, and captives arrive from that sack, including
Iole, the king’s daughter. Deianeira learns from Lichas that Herakles has sacked the
city, not because he had been insulted, but because he wanted the king’s daughter.
In jealous despair, she sends Herakles a robe anointed with blood from the centaur’s
wound, which turns out not to be the love charm she thought, but an incurable poison.
Hyllos brings news of what the robe has done to Herakles, and devastated, Deianeira
kills herself with a sword. Herakles is brought onstage in great pain, cursing his
wife and asking Hyllos to marry Iole and then to light the funeral pyre that will
put him out of his agony. — Storey & Allen
Women of Trachis is directed and adapted by Javen Tanner, and features an American translation by the
poet C.K. Williams and classicist Gregory W. Dickerson. The set design was created
by Spencer Brown, and costumes were designed and built by Andrea Davenport. The production
uses character and neutral masks, and medieval-inspired costumes and music further
set a unique tone for this Greek classic.
The Westminster Department of Theatre Arts is proud to present the 46th annual Classical
Greek Theatre Festival.
In September of 2016 The Classical Greek Theatre Festival of Westminster College will
mount and tour a new production of Euripides' tragic masterpieceHerakles, rarely read and infrequently seen in performance.
In the play Herakles has married Megara, the daughter of the king of Thebes, and is
now absent on his famous Labors; meanwhile a usurper, Lykos ("Wolf") has seized power
in Thebes and is preparing to kill Megara and her children. Megara asks for time to
prepare herself, land, and her children, and as she and Amphitryon (Herakles' stepfather)
pray for aid from Zeus, Herakles returns, having completed the last of his Labors.
When Lykos returns to take Megara in to her death, he is murdered (off-stage) by Herakles.
All seems to have ended happily, but on the palace roof appears Iris (messenger of
the gods) and Lyssa (Madness), sent by Hera to continue her wrath against Herakles.
Lyssa is unwilling to assail Herakles who has been a defender of the gods, but does
her work at the insistence of Iris. A messenger describes how Herakles has gone mad
and killed his family. We see a tableau of Herakles and the bodies of his wife and
sons, and with the aid of Amphitryon he returns to sanity and the ghastly realization
of what he has done. His friend Theseus, whom he rescued from the underworld, arrives
to take the stricken hero to Athens." (I.C Storey & A. Allen)
This September, Hugh Hanson will direct a modern production ofHeraklesfeaturing a recent American translation by the noted poet Anne Carson. Spencer Brown
will create the set design with costumes by Erin West and original music played live
by Ryan Fedor.
Westminster College, Jay W. Lees Courage Theatre: September 2–3 & 9–10, 7:30 p.m.
300 Wakara Way Salt Lake City, UT 84108 (801)585-0556
*An orientation lecture by the dramaturge will precede every show thirty minutes before
Study Guide to Euripides'Herakles
In viewing theHeraklesthe audience would have recognized several familiar features of the (mythic) story
and have been struck by some innovations. The most striking departure from the pre-existing
tradition is the sequence of events. According to a likely reconstruction of this
earlier version, the murder of the childrenprecededthe labors and may have provided the motivation for them. Euripides' account of the
story also necessitates a different motivation for the labors. Amphitryon explains
that since he himself is in exile from his native Argos, Herakles acts to 'ease these
misfortunes' as to win his own return to Argos. Theseus' later appearance and involvement
in this stage of the story must also be novel, since the involvement hinges on his
rescue from the underworld. Lykos, it seems is a Euripidean invention, found nowhere
in Greek literature before this play and nowhere afterward independent of the play's
influence. This new character is of obvious importance for the threat he poses to
the family, since this motivates the first section of the play.
There is a possibly closer and more revealing connection here, however, between Herakles
and Euripides. Herakles, we know, is coming home because his labors are over, and
those labors have been identified for the most part as the labors of war. The curious
and remarkable fact is that, as he was envisioning and creating the Herakles, the
very same may have been true for Euripides and his fellow Athenians. In 424 BCE, Euripides
turned sixty and thus would have come home from the war for the last time. Furthermore,
only several years later, he would have been joined in military retirement by many
or most of his comrades in arms. In the years immediately following the Peace of Nikias
(421), not only Euripides but most all of Athens' veterans, like Herakles, put their
combat labors behind them and returned to their farms and families and the challenges
of peace…While there is no sure date for theHerakles, I believe the analysis here makes such a dating all the more compelling. It is,
I would suggest, a play written by a veteran about a veteran for veterans, all of
whom are attempting to put war behind them. Not an easy task.
He was a many-sided poet; even the fraction of his work that has come down to us -about
one-fifth- we can hear many different voices: the rhetorician and iconoclast of Aristophanic
travesty; the precursor to Menandrian comedy; the realist who brought the myths down
to the level of everyday life; the inventor of the romantic adventure play; the lyric
poet whose music, Plutarch tells us, was to save Athens from destruction when surrender
came in 404; the producer of patriotic war plays -and also of plays that expose war's
ugliness in dramatic images of unbearable intensity; above all, the tragic poet who
saw human life not as action but as suffering…It is a vision of the future. In it
we see the poet at work as prophet, as seer:vatesthe Romans called him, a word that means both poet and prophet.
Euripidean theater is a genuine theater of ideas, a theater where the emphasis will
be on ideas rather than character and where a thesis or problem will normally take
precedence over development of character or heroism. Such a theater results in certain
changes with regard to plot and character: first, the destruction of thepropter hocstructure; secondly, the disappearance of the hero.
Herakles has married Megara, the daughter of the king of Thebes, and is now absent
on his famous Labors; meanwhile a usurper, Lykos ("Wolf") has seized poiwer in Thebes
and is preparing to kill Megara and the children. As she and Amphitryon (Herakles'
stepfather) pray for aid from Zeus, Herakles returns, having completed the last of
his Labors. When Lykos returns to take Megara in to her death, he is murdered (off-stage)
by Herakles. All seems to have ended happily, but on the palace roof appear Iris (messenger
of the gods) and Lyssa (Madness), sent by Hera to continue her wrath against Herakles.
A messenger describes how Herakles has gone mad and killed his family. We see a tableau
of Herakles amid the bodies of his wife and sons, and with the aid of Amphitryon he
returns to sanity and the ghastly realization of what he has done. His friend Theseus,
whom he rescued from the underwold, arrives to take the stricken hero to Athens.
The plot is not a single and coherent action but a sequence of episodes leading to
a series of aborted ends: first death for the hero's wife and children at the hands
of the upstart Lycus, then deliverance when Herakles suddenly returns from Hades to
save his family and rescue (sic) the tyrant, then crushing reversal when Herakles
in god-sent madness murders his wife and children, and finally the uncertain future
that awaits the hero in Athens. The final scene of the play describes a situation
whose outcome is unknown, and a protagonist whose identity remains undefined.
The play falls into four movements. A. Waiting for Herakles. B Herakles' return and
the murder of Lycus. C. Herakles' madness and the murder of his wife and children.
D. Herakles' rehabilitation with the help of the unfailing love and friendship of
Amphitryon and Theseus. The four movements may be grouped as two pairs (AB and CD)
each setting a problem followed by a resolution.
III: The Character of Herakles
Herakles lies on the margins between human and divine; he occupies the no-man's-land
that is also no-gods'-land; he is a marginal, transitional or, better,interstitialfigure. From his birth to his death, Herakles is a clear instance, an extreme instance,
of an interstitial figure: both powerful and vulnerable, viewed with awe and admiration;
also feared, wherever he goes. He is neither man nor god, so neither man nor god is
ever entirely at peace with him. He is an ideal to dream of and a horror story to
Geoffrey Kirk has pointed out that the legendary Herakles embodies 'to an unusual
degree' the contradictions of the hero : humane and bestial, serious and burlesque,
sane and mad, savior and destroyer, free and slave, human and divine…The hero who
embodies contradictions to an exceptional degree is full of possibility, available
for ever new constructions and reinventions, and he is also empty, never a coherent
or identifiable individual or character, but a constellation of images.
The earlier scenes of the play present in succession three different views of the
hero: the epinician Herakles, the domestic Herakles, and the violent and criminal
Herakles. Euripides enjambs these three views of the hero, emphasizing the separateness
of each and the apparent contradictions among them.
IV: Themes and Dramatic Strategies
Herakles is not only military innovator; he is also a hero deeply immersed in domesticity.
This theme of family implies an obvious dramatic irony, in that Herakles displays
love for his family just before he slaughters them. But the family relationship among
males is a major theme of this play.
Lyssa, the reluctant agent of Herakles' temporary insanity, is a personification of a condition
recognized elsewhere as typical of anyone out of control, from the berserker in battle
to various forms of the frenzied, from fanatic, to rabid to erotomaniac.
This powerful tragedy poses two urgent questions. One of them concerns the relationship
between gods and mortals. Who is the true father of Herakles? Is it the god or the
mortal? The second question concerns the fundamental nature of heroism. Who is the
Any shedding of human blood, intended or not, created a pollution(miasma) that was regarded as infectious to sight, touch and hearing. Theseus in the name
of friendship and in spite of Herakles' protests will disregard the risk of pollution
Violence is at the centre of this play. The violence of Lycus. The violence of the
gods who themselves are swept along by the hatred of Hera and in some way trapped
by it. The violence which has always characterized Herakles' way of life and which
makes him vulnerable to the gods' manipulation. Physical violence is a way of life
to him, so that when the gods come to destroy him, they are able to do so through
patterns of behavior which are already characteristic of him.
In theHeraklesthe use of the sacrificial motif is more complex: first, a perversion of ritual results
in unintentional kin murder; second, the sacrificial crisis is absorbed into a larger
ritual crisis which itself includes a perversion ofagon, of festalmolpe(song and dance), and of the poetic tradition itself.
Herakles'agones, theagonesof war, and the Greek athleticagonesidealize physical force and competition the service of civilization, not to undermine
it as in this play. The termagonis, of course, a complex one, meaning not only a labor or contest but also a struggle,
battle, trial, assembly, speech, debate. and so on.
The play's concluding theme is friendship. Herakles extols it above wealth and power.
But this oversimplifies. Theseus' wealth and Athens' power make this friendship viable.
Yet a look back will recall that friendship has been shown as helpless (the chorus,
Amphitryon, Lyssa), unreliable (the citizens of Thebes, the Greek world) or simply
absent. Friendship,philia, in Greek, is a wide-ranging notion, comprising social and political alignments as
well as mutual ties and obligations of kin.
The theme of human weakness comprehends both the extreme old age of the chorus and
Amphitryon, and the helplessness of Megara and the children…The play presents the
inevitable cycle of human life, a journey between the weakness of childhood and the
feebleness of old age. Herakles as son and as parent stands between his father and
children as a representative of mature and youthful strength,hebe.
The shadow of Hades, of things having to do with death, is cast over the length of
the play. There are, from the beginning to end, journeys to and from death, impending
death, dirges and laments, dressing for death, killings, corpses, funeral and burial
arrangements, contemplation of suicide.
No play of Euripides gives more prominence to divinities and to questions of religion
that doesHerakles. In other plays divine figures in prologue and epilogue interpret the action through
genealogy and cult. InHerakles, where the gap between myth and reality is central, the appearance of thedeus ex machinais centralized as well, invading the play at its core.
Yoking metaphors are very common to express close relationships, and variations of
the metaphor occur throughout theHerakles. The dependence of Herakles' children is characterized in a striking new simile (epholkides, a small rowboat) which is then repeated in metaphor form to express his own dependence
The shifts in mood inHeraklesare startling as the action of the play veers from predictable to unpredictable, from
comic to tragic, from sanity to lunacy. If we are looking for a pattern—and where
would critics be if not for pattern—this is a walking example of Aristotle'speripateia, reversal of expectation.
TheHerakleshas a final debate (1214-1404), but one which achieves harmony rather than confirms
estrangement. This outcome is implicit from the start in the long-standing friendship
of the disputants, Herakles and Theseus. Theagonbetween the two is a contest of will; Theseus forces Herakles to resist the suicide
that tempts him as a punishment for, and escape from, the shame of having killed his
children: he must be true to hisarete, must live to surmount dishonour.
Wilamowitz in his pioneering study pointed out thatHeraklescenters on conflicting concepts of heroicarete, opposing a new, modernizing heroism, adopted by Herakles at Theseus' urging, to
the traditional model of violence and force.
The vicissitudes of life, the role of fortune (not Fortune) are nowhere more forcefully
seen than in the play's view of Herakles' life. At the moment of his greatest success,
rescuing his family, Herakles suffers a complete reversal of fortune. He becomes not
only his family's rescuer, but their murderer. Even the greatest hero is subject to
the cruelest and most terrible ruin. Although Herakles cannot control all the elements
of his life, he can make some decisions within it. Buoyed by the friendship of Theseus,
he is able to reject suicide and go on living. Euripides avoids any mention of a later
apotheosis in order to focus on the human Herakles who, sustained by human friendship,
can survive in a capricious and harsh world.
At the heart of the tragedy there is subversion. Presumed norms of order are called
into question: the coherence of mythic and heroic values, political order, the relationship
of public and private life. Religion and poetry are part of this too. The first through
the gods of myth, especially where questions are raised about justice or theodicy,
and through reference to the relationship of gods and humans in the actual practices
of cult ritual. The issue of poetry is acutely involved because Euripides' drama and
its language are the means by which all these subversions are represented, and this
poetry is itself part of the normative tradition.
Rather, to Euripides, Herakles' accomplishment was something purely internal and human
and therefore vastly more enduring and valuable. TheHeraklesis a reinterpretation of the meaning of the Herakles myth in those terms. This is
made dramatically explicit by the division of the play into two parts. The first,
in many respects, is the standard, deliberately run-of-the-mill drama about Herakles,
the doer of great deeds,kallinikos, savior and all the rest of the conventional trappings. The second action is the
total opposite of the first, whose values it undercuts and reevaluates. TheHeraklesis a purposefultour de forcewhose two actions are related as point to counterpoint.
Heraklesis a far more complex tragedy than man critics have thought. Euripides exploits the
conflicting views of ancient tradition about Herakles' nature andarete. The superlative strength that Herakles exhibited during his labors is laudable,
but its transference from wildness into civilization becomes problematic. The play
suggests that the solution is provided by the civic (and Athenocentric) context, where
individuality and the archaic type of heroic excellence give way to solidarity and
the value of community…The development of the image of Herakles, from the invincible
here to the courageous bearer of suffering, gives the play an important place in the
tradition of Herakles, as a telling example of the humanization and moralization of
this figure especially in the later fifth century B.C.
Heraklesof all the extant plays raises with greatest urgency the perennial Euripidean questions
about the nature of dramatic unity, the role of the gods, and the uses of cult and
legend; and it has been impossible for interpreters to proceed, while leaving these
central issues unresolved. Yet the very directness with which this play approaches
the problems that elsewhere are masked in an irony of indirection makes th elements
of its structure almost impossible to miss. As a result, the image of the play in
critical literature is clear in general outline, although central areas remain severely
distorted or out of focus.
But whyHerakles, and why now? The answer is simple but compelling. Herakles, as Euripides staged
him, is the quintessential hero for our times, the clearest and most revealing of
mirrors for America and Americans at war, a war that we are told is without foreseeable
end…Euripides' Herakles is first and foremost a warrior, a citizen-soldier in the
service of his state. Not surprisingly, then, his images, from the Geometric Period
to the 5th century, show him most often armed and outfitted as a warrior. In the 7th
century, he commonly appears as the hoplite, though it is also then that he makes
is first appearance with a bow.
Study Questions for Euripides'Herakles
Why do we all love Herakles? What aspects of the myth has Euripides eliminated? How
is he the ultimate man of contradictions?
What problems open the play? Why the setting of an altar?
Who is Herakles' father, Zeus or Amphitryon? Who is Zeus in this play?
What is the "motif of the suppliant?" How is the first movement ofHeraklesa traditional suppliant play?
Who is the Chorus and what roles do they play? How do the Greeks view old age?
What are the purposes of the Chorus' longthrenos(lament) delineating the labors?
Euripides adds Lykos to the plot action. Why? How is the the stereotypic tyrant?
What isarete (virtue/courage/excellence)and what in particular is Herakles'arete?
Does it change over the course of the play?
What are the major plot points (dramatic turns in action) of theHerakles?
Who are Lyssa and Iris and how is the divine explored in this play? Who is Hera?
How is this scene a "second prologue" and introduce a "play of divine vengeance?"
What motivates Herakles' destruction? What divine and human causes?
What patterns of imagery are important and permeate the play (e.g. sea & sailing,
Dionysiac, hunting, athletic)?
What part to weapons (e.g. bow, arrows, spear, shield, club) play inHerakles?
Is Herakles more archer than hoplite in this play? Is the debate over weapons related
to contemporary events?
Who is the Messenger and what are his roles/strategies? How does he tell his story?
What part does Athena play in the play? Who is Athena?
Who is Theseus and how is he a reflection of Athens and its values?
Why does Herakles reject suicide and decide to live?
How does the play end? With what denouement and "gestures of closure?"
What are Euripides' major innovations, radically changing the myth of Herakles?
Is theHerakles"broken-backed" or a play in 2/3/4 movements unified by the (non)presence of Herakles
and the themes of friendship and old age?
What they're saying about the Herakles
“Wonderful production of Herakles! Fine acting and an intelligible translation. I
was particularly struck with the way the music was worked in. We will never really
know what the original scores for the tragedies were like, so starting from scratch
is the only way to go if you want the (in my opinion) essential musical component.
I did get a chance to chat briefly with Ryan about this and to compliment him. One
of the puppeteers did a bit of dancing; the more the better of that (although hard
to do much with the puppet while dancing) although once again, since, we'll never
know what the dancing was really like, it makes sense to start anew. I am still processing
the puppet idea and the more I think on it the better I like it. All in all, I would
say it was a powerful performance of a very disturbing and emotion evoking play. Euripides
all the way!” - Paul Litka
“The show took me by surprise. It was brisk, energetic, heart-wrenching. A very strong
ensemble cast -- including some fine singers. The puppets added a whole other dimension
to the play -- very visually expressive. The music too was inventive -- a bit too
loud for such a small space as the Wildcat Theater -- I had some trouble hearing the
actors -- even though I heeded the advice to sit down in front. Again -- thanks for
bringing the play to WSU -- looking forward to next year!” - Kathryn McKay
“Director Hugh Hanson has chosen to move the setting of Herakles from ancient Greece
to a post-Vietnam America. The volatile time in our nation’s history was a fitting
time in which to place this story, as it deals heavily not only with war-weary former
soldiers, but with how it effected those they left behind. Infused into this highly
conceptualized production was live music composed by Ryan Fedor and giant Bunraku-style
puppets built by Glenn Brown that were operated by the chorus. The level of creativity
that went into this production is to be lauded, as it not only enhances the story,
but serves it, too. It is a difficult thing to present the realness of tragedy and
mental illness with the height that classical Greek theater demands, but Hanson and
his cast mount a stirring piece that accomplishes this task. As the title character, Joel Huff was able to find the balance between real emotion
and the showing of tragedy, which is what this play called for. An imposing figure,
he was both intimidating and sympathetic as his character goes from the mighty hero
we all know to the defeated man bemoaning his fallen state. In one scene wherein Herakles
lamented his entire life’s creation, calling, and purpose, he sat on the ground, his
legs stretched in front of him in an almost childlike posture that denoted a kind
of retrogression brought by grief and madness. It is, again, a tricky balance to strike,
and not every actor on the stage was equal to it, but I was pleased that Huff managed
to pull it off. Indeed, apart from Huff and some strong moments from Dave Hanson as Amphytrion, the
most magnetic performances came from the chorus. Some lovely singing (in particular
on the part of chorus members Savannah Moffat and Vanessa Vega), and 100% commitment
to the avantgarde nature of the piece made the chorus members thoroughly entertaining
through the piece. As is the custom in ancient Greek theatre, the chorus remain onstage
for most of it, and preserving this aspect of the genre was enjoyable because of actors
like Moffat and Vega. One unfortunate thing, however, was that the live guitar (played
by Fedor), was often quite loud, drowning out the dialogue, whether spoken or sung.”
- Elise Hanson
In September of 2015 The Classical Greek Theater Festival of Westminster College will
mount and tour a new production of Sophocles' tragic masterpieceElectra."Sophocles makes the figure of Electra the dynamic centre of his play. She dominates
the action by both her physical presence (she is onstage well over 90% of its length)
and by her heroic nature. She is central to the plot, which focuses on her faithfulness
to Agamemnon and to the idea of revenge, despite persecution from Aegisthus and Clytemnestra;
on her extreme reactions to to the false report of Orestes' death; and on her final
deliverance from misery through his triumph over her persecutors. Her speaking part
is one of the longest in Greek tragedy, during which she expresses the heights and
depths of emotion, from bitter hatred to most tender love, from the deepest sorrow
to the most exalted joy. Like Antigone she is fiercely loyal to the dead, in her case
to her dead father. She is outspoken in her condemnation of his murderers, steadfast
in her longing for revenge, unflinching in the face of punishment and even under threat
of death." Jenny Marsh
In September 2015, Larry West will direct an ancient/modern production ofElectrafeaturing a recent American translation by Marianne McDonald. Spencer Brown will create
the set design with costumes by Erin West and with original music played live by Abby
Scott. Melanie Nelson will play Electra, one of the longest and most demanding roles
in Greek tragedy.
The production will open at Westminster College on September 4–5 & 11–12 with performances
at 7:30 p.m., then tour the state of Utah with venues in the UCCC Amphitheater in
West Valley City on Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m., in Provo at BYU's de Jong Concert Hall
on Sept. 21 at 5:00 p.m. and in Ogden at WSU in the Wildcat Theater on Sept. 23 at
7:30 p.m., and then return to Salt Lake City for its residency at Red Butte Garden
Sept. 26–27 with performances beginning at 9:00 a.m. An orientation lecture by the
dramaturge will precede every show thirty minutes before each performance.
In September of 2014 The Classical Greek Theater Festival of Westminster College will
mount and tour a production of Euripides' dark tragedy HECUBA, a play rarely read
and seldom performed in recent years.
For many Hecuba is the archetypal mater dolorosa, the sorrowful mother grieving over
the loss of her homeland Troy, her husband Priam and her many children. Euripides'
tragedy HECUBA tells the story of her sufferings after the fall of Troy, her failure
to save her young daughter Polyxena from the Greeks and her discovery of the murder
of her youngest son Poydorus. Like so many Greek (and Elizabethan) tragedies, HECUBA
explores the causes, methods and effects of revenge, perhaps the primary meaning of
the Greek word for justice (dike). Euripides plots Hecuba's journey from vulnerable
victim to ruthless avenger by three rhetorical debates, a debate with Odysseus over
the life of Polyxena which she loses, a debate with Agamemnon which she wins, and
a final debate with her victim Polymestor in which no one wins.
Euripides' HECUBA deals with the aftermath of war where the winners jockey for political
power and prestige and the victims are frequently women and innocent children.
Barbara Smith, a professor of Theater at Westminster College, will direct a production
of Euripides' HECUBA featuring a recent American translation by Marianne McDonald.
Spencer Brown of Westminster College will create the set design with costumes by Valerie
Nishiguchi, original music by Andrew Olsen and choreography by Enid Atkinson.
In September of 2013, The Classical Greek Theater Festival of Westminster College
mounted and toured a new production of Sophocles' tragic masterpieceOedipus the King. As many know, the play follows Oedipus' journey to discover the source of the plague
affecting Thebes, the killer of the old king Laius, and the truth of his own identity.
Reviews for Oedipus the King
In its 43rd year running the Classical Greek Theater Festival of Utah returned, as
it has every decade or so, to that most celebrated of Athenian tragedies, Sophocles'
Oedipus the King. Performed during a three-week run at an impressive array of locations
across Utah, both in and out of doors, the ambitious production focused on the essentials
of good Greek drama: character, action, pity, fear, and suffering. Not that theatrical
spectacle was neglected. The show's director, University of Utah theatre professor
Sandra Shotwell, made use of convertible robes to transform, in a moment, a certain
anonymous Theban chorus member into the prophet Tiresias, another into Oedipus' wife,
Jocasta, etc. This was an elegant alternative to the extended entrances which, although
a defining feature of Greek drama, are regularly uncomfortable for modern audiences
as they patiently wait for the blind seer to traverse many yards on his way to the
stage. The production in general formidably maintained that which is distinctive from
Greek tragedy (such as a singing and dancing chorus, actors' use of large and stately
gestures, etc.) without alienating the audience, which is a recurrent danger when
pursuing a historically informed performance. This Oedipus consistently struck the
right balance. For example, choral songs were accompanied by an oboe, an originalist
nod to the Greek aulos, a double-reed instrument which accompanied ancient tragic
and dithyrambic performances. However, the show's original score was composed in a
modern European mode, with common pitch intervals and melodic structures that were
familiar to performers and audience alike. Such devices and decisions, from music
to costume to character, helped make the performance an Oedipus for our age. We audience
members were invited to see Oedipus' struggle for justice, prosperity, and above all
self-knowledge as our own. As the show's dramaturge and longtime impresario of the
Classical Greek Theatre Festival Jim Svendsen noted in his introduction to the performance,
Sophocles' Oedipus the King not only offers an unmatched window into the minds and
hearts of Athenians during the fifth century BCE; it also holds a mirror up to the
achievements—as well as the strife, pride, and ignorance—we see around us today.
Jim Svendsen, Artistic Director and Dramaturge, gave a scintillating lecture in the
Fireplace Lounge, Weber State University, on Wednesday, September 25, 2013, to introduce
Westminster's memorable production of Sophocles' Oedipus the King, in the Wildcat
Theater. Of the more than twenty Greek plays I've seen performed in Ogden, this one
was the best overall performance. Translated by Marianne McDonald into a lively and
fast-paced "American English," both the actors and members of the Chorus delivered
their lines clearly enunciating the words and projecting their voices in such a way
that the audience felt drawn in to the play. Sandra Shotwell is the consummate director!
Ryon Sharette (Oedipus) and Elizabeth Summerhays (Jacosta) were supercharged with
emotion, especially in the scene where Jocasta gradually learns who Oedipus really
is--and the revulsion she experiences from that epiphany. Nikola Muckajev (Tiresias)
and Michael Calacino (Creon) also gave memorable performances. Solange Gomes (Choreographer)
made the Chorus truly "the voice of the people" in both song and dance, several actors
moving in and out of the Chorus effectively by a simple on-stage changing of costumes.
Cathy Neff (Composer) worked closely with Jim Svendsen, Sandra Shotwell, and Solange
Gomes to compose music "that grew out of the feeling of the text." My hat is off to
all who made the evening (lecture and play) such an enjoyable experience!
Oedipus the King is an Eye-Popping Tragedy
September 8, 2013 by Russell Warne
SALT LAKE CITY—At the end of Westminster College's production of Oedipus the King,
a chorus of nine actors sang the haunting words, "Call no man happy until that person
dies free from sorrow." In other words, no matter how prosperous a person seems to
be, until death it is always possible that a single tragedy could wipe out his happiness.
Oedipus the King is an ancient Greek tragedy about the king of Thebes, a great city
which has been beset by tragedy. When Creon (Oedipus's brother-in-law, played by Michael
Calicino) returns from the oracle at Delphi, he explains that the gods have said through
an oracle that the previous king's murderer is in Thebes and must be executed in order
for Thebes to find peace again. Written by Sophocles, it is probably the most famous
surviving Greek tragedy and has political and personal themes that resonate today.
Presented by the Classical Ancient Greek Theatre Festival, this production will be
touring Utah this month, bringing some of the world's oldest drama to local audiences.
Dominating the production is Ryon Sharette as Oedipus. Sharette had a characteristic
that I look for in an actor playing a king: dignity. Sharette's characterization of
Oedipus started the play at the apex of his power and esteem. This made his eventual
downfall more tragic and emphasized the ephemeral nature of wealth and power. Sharette
was at his best when interacting with the other male characters in the play: Oedipus's
battle of wills with the blind priest (Connor Montgomery) was a highlight of the play,
and the confrontation with Creon provided enough dramatic tension to keep my interest
for the middle section of the play.
I wasn't as interested in Elizabeth Summerhay's performance as Jocasta, Oedipus's
wife. For the most part, Summerhays displayed a very limited range of emotion and
reactions that were so subtle that many were lost to me, even though I was only sitting
on the third row. This made it feel like Summerhays didn't give Sharette a lot to
work with, giving their scenes together a similar tone to those of Oedipus's monologues
(of which there are already plenty in the script). Summerhays did much to redeem herself
in her final moments as Jocasta, but overall I wish that the only female character
in the play had been more interesting.
However, Calacino's portrayal of the priest was fascinating because of the strong
personality that Calacino gave his character. Calacino correctly understood that the
priest, because of the supernatural understanding of the world, could provide the
first challenge to Oedipus's hubris. Calacino showed this through a commanding voice,
and the product of his performance was a strong setup of the play's central conflict.
Director Sandra Shotwell's goal with this production was to create a play that would
be faithful to the conventions of ancient Greek theatre and show the audience why
Oedipus the King is so revered in Western culture. In this she largely succeeded.
Although some aspects of ancient Greek theatre (like the masks) are missing, the important
pieces are there: the chorus, the limited number of speaking characters on stage at
once, the direct addresses to the audience, and more. Thanks to Shotwell's direction
(and Marianne McDonald's clear translation of the script), a background in theatre
history or the text of the play is not necessary to understand this production.
The major downside with Shotwell's directorial choices is that faithfulness to ancient
Greek theatrical conventions makes the production less accessible to modern audiences.
Those who may have attended last year's production of Antigone were given a more accessible
production set in modern times with contemporary costuming, props, and music that
all combined to make the script relevant to today. By maintaining fidelity to ancient
Greek performance tradition, Shotwell has created a work that is much closer to a
museum piece than last year's Antigone and therefore difficult for modern audiences
to relate to. However, the chorus was the major saving grace in making the production
accessible. The nine actors—in excellent Greek fashion—effectively told the audience
how to feel, what to think, and provided helpful commentary on the action. While their
songs sometimes went on too long (and the choreography by Solange Gomes was understated
by modern musical theatre standards), the chorus of Oedipus the King was an ideal
example of what an ancient Greek chorus should be.
The emphasis of this production is on Sophocles's 2400-year-old script, so the technical
elements are pretty sparse (and some, like the lighting won't even be present in performances
at some of their other locations). Valerie Nishiguchi's costumes were most prominent,
and all of them delineated social class of characters well and were functional enough
for the chorus actors to easily dance in. Moreover, Nishiguchi wisely eschewed stereotypical
Greek togas (as seen in the Festival's Iphigenia in Tauris two years ago) and instead
provided a wide variety of robes, tunics, and other costume pieces that seemed more
realistic. The music (composed by Cathy Neff and performed by oboist Hilary Coon)
was pleasing and never strayed into the realm of tunelessness (again, unlike Iphigenia
in Tauris) or repetitiveness.
Overall, though, Oedipus the King is a production that I would recommend to students
and others interested in ancient Greek theatre and seeing a culturally influential
play. However, the play has its boring moments that arise from the 2,400-year gulf
between modern American and ancient Greece—a difference in cultures that may be too
difficult to overcome. But for some people it will be worth the challenge to attend
Oedipus the King, and this play, unlike its title character, certainly has no fatal
flaws that should keep anyone away from it.
In a time of protests and the fall of tyrants Sophocles' Antigoneseems both timely and timeless. At its root are the basic conflicts between individual
and state, human and divine law, logic and passion, conflicts between the genders
and generations. The play first and foremost tells the tale of a young woman whose
actions are motivated by family, concern for the unwritten law of the gods and the
duty to bury her dead brother, leading directly to her trial and death. But the play
also focuses on the tragic downfall of Creon whose single-minded devotion to the state
results in the loss of both wife and son. A plot pattern of divine punishment involving
Creon emerges from Antigone's self-sacrifice. The double plot action is counter-pointed
by one of Sophocles' most rich, dense and lyrical choruses, whose famous "Ode to Man"
seems to encapsulate 5th century Athens with all its tensions. This play fascinates
philosophers for its interplay of ideas, fascinates the cultural historians for its
look at 5th century Athens, and fascinates the modern playgoer for its fast-paced
plot, complex and contradictory characters, and almost inevitable movement toward
tragic loss and death.
In the fall of 2011, CGTF presents Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris, the further adventures
of the eldest daughter of Agamamnon. Set in an exotic land at the edges of the civilized
world, we discover that Iphigenia was not sacrificed at Aulis, but transported far
away to serve the goddess Artemis in a bloody and barbaric cult. Still stained with
his mother's blood, her brother Orestes is also sent here by Apollo to find purification
by bringing a cult statue of Artemis back to Greece. The story tells of a near-sacrifice
of brother by sister, their moving reunion, and a thrilling escape plan almost foiled
by the barbarian king. Though a tragedy by Greek standards, Euiripides' play in many
respects looks like the Shakespearean romances with scenes of melodrama and even comedy.
Anne Stewart Mark will direct a new production of Iphigenia in Tauris, rarely seen
in performance, with original music by Ricklen Nobis, choreography by William Richardson
and design by Spencer Brown. The Salt Lake City performances feature the premiere
production of a new translation by Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton. Iphigenia
at Tauris will open with a performance at Westminster on September 16 at 5:00 p.m.
in the Richer Commons, and then will go on to tour to the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater,
with performances on September 17–18 and 24–25 at 9:00 a.m., Brigham Young University
on September 19th at 5:00 p.m., and at Weber State University on September 29th at
"Behind every great man is an even greater woman." The Fates have granted King Admetos
the privilege of living past his time. But the gift comes at a price - he must find
someone willing to take his place when Death comes to take him. His wife Alcestis,
not wishing her children to be fatherless, volunteers to go in his stead. In a cowardly
fashion, Admetos allows her to do so. Only after he admits his weakness does his friend
Heracles come to the rescue. Euripides stunning tragicomedy explores the powerful
themes of sacrifice and rebirth.
Directed by Larry West Andy Rindlisbach as Dionysus Ryon Sharette as Pentheus Gabi Gaston as Agave
Arguably the most horrific, powerful and theatrical of all Greek tragedies, the Bakkhai
is perhaps also the most controversial and hotly debated Euripidean tragedy. At its
center are the god Dionysus, the god of wine, music, dance, theater and ecstasy, and
a chorus of initiates who proclaim his greatness and his gifts. In opposition stands
the teenager Pentheus, a disturbed and disturbing young tyrant who rejects the god
Dionysus and all he stands for. Euripides' plot treats the three confrontations between
the two and then follows Pentheus to the mountain where he encounters the maenads
and sees what he should not see. Two messenger speeches describe the actions of the
offstage maenads, and the final movement of the play shows the audience the macabre
results where horror and beauty are bizarrely combined. In the end so many questions
remain, especially regarding the ambiguous and paradoxical nature of the god Dionysus.
Directed by Sandra Shotwell Erika Richardson as Medea & Brandon Tessers as Jason
"Where our hearts are, there most danger lies." When Medea's love for her husband
turns to hate, her fury knows no bounds. Driven by the complex character of its heroine,
the plot follows Medea's decision for and plotting of revenge against her husband,
Jason. Medea is at once woman, barbarian, witch, hero, and "other" as well as Greek
and a symbol of Athens. Motivated by rage, honor, pride, and maternal love, Medea
proves a stunning example of the "divided woman." Her rational and emotional monologues
probe the challenges of being wife, mother, and human. No gods meddle with this tragic
action, and the audience remains riveted on the powerful forces at work within Medea
and on the fate of her children, who wander silently on and off the stage.
What is unique about Medea?
It has an unusual opening by an old nurse, not a god or hero; a barbarian, not a Greek;
and a slave woman, not a male tyrant or aristocrat. Like Shakespeare's Othello, the
play is intensely domestic and deals with the destruction of a family.
The play has an unique hero, Medea, who is feminine and barbarian. She is subversive
and transgresses many Greek boundaries, and appropriates many of the characteristics
of the Greek male hero of epic and earlier tragedy.
The play has an odd ending, with Medea triumphant and no retribution or payback for
her horrific acts of revenge.
Why see Medea?
Because of its unusual heroine. Like a prism, Medea exhibits several sides. Like a
consummate actress, she plays several roles to manipulate her audience.
Because of its spectacular chorus of Corinthian women. They entertain us with their
song, poetry and dance, but also provide commentary and perspective on the action,
and who act as a hinge between scenes and speakers.
Because of the way in which it discusses and challenges the regime values of the ancient
Because it raises questions of identity, and who we are in terms of gender, family,
state and culture.
Directed by Barbara Smith Lauren Bradley as Helen & Patrick Harris as Menelaus
In Euripides’ surprising take on the tale, Helen was never in Troy, having been spirited
away from Sparta and a fake Helen left in her place to be kidnapped and taken to Troy,
thus touching off the 10-year war. We uncover the fate of the real Helen, as she waits
in Egypt for news of her husband and fends off a marriage to the Egyptian king. A
blend of tragedy and comedy, Euripides gives us a Helen who deserves more praise than
Directed by Hugh Hanson Nicole Razon as Electra & Nick Zaharias as Orestes
A stark tale of the vengeance of Elektra and Orestes for the murder of their father
Agamemnon by their mother Klytemnestra and her lover. A sequel to last year’s U of
U Classical Greek Theatre Festival production, Iphigenia in Aulis.
Elektra tells the story of King Agamemnon’s children, Elektra and Orestes, and their
quest for vengeance on the perpetrators of their father’s murder—their mother Klytemnestra
and her lover, the new king. Euripides’ version presents two anti-heroes—the neurotic,
unbalanced Elektra and her cowardly brother Orestes—in a world where the differences
between good people and bad people are not always clear. The play questions the traditional
values of the time, which judged a man by his wealth, status, and position.
Directed by Larry West Richard Scharine as Agamemnon & Barbara Smith as Clytemnestra
Iphigenia at Aulis is Euripides' compelling story of King Agamemnon who is torn between
his love of family and his commitment to war. Deceiving his wife and daughter, he
implores them to come to Aulis with his promise of Iphigenia's marriage to Achilles,
when, in reality, she will be slain by her father in the interest of the upcoming
Trojan War. Iphigenia at Aulis is a story of personal versus political sacrifice.
Directed by Sandra Shotwell Richard Scharine as Oedipus
Oedipus at Colonus is the climax of Sophocles' masterpiece "Theban Cycle." Oedipus
the King ended when Oedipus, who had been distraught at discovering that it was he
who murdered his father and unknowingly married his mother, had blinded himself. Disgraced,
he wanders throughout Greece with his daughter, Antigone. In Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus
regains his dignity and heroic stature. As his final resting place is sought, he is
vied for as a talisman and protector by his son and the kings of Athens and Thebes.
All Greek drama, includingOedipus the King, was performed in masks. Made of linen, cork, or wood, no ancient Greek mask has
survived the ravages of time, but we do have several representations of Greek masks
painted on Athenian vases. Though the origins of masks in the Greek theatre are shrouded
in mystery, the fact remains that the mask was an accepted theatrical convention and
used throughout both tragedy and comedy.
Described by Aristotle as the "perfect tragedy,"Oedipus the Kinghas held our attention for over 2000 years. What is it about this tragic hero, Oedipus,
that captures our imagination? We know the story: Oedipus as the agent of the action
fulfills the curse that proclaims he will kill his father and marry his mother. It
is through Sophocles' brilliance as a playwright that we examine this ancient myth
and watch Oedipus' journey to understand the roles of the gods, his identity, and
his fate. Through his journey we too discover the "man within the myth."
Directed by Barbara Smith Jennifer Clark as Antigone & Lloyd Mulvey as Creon
Insubordination is our worst crime. It wrecks cities and empties homes. It breaks
and routs even allies who fight beside us. Discipline is what saves the lives of all
good people who stay out of trouble. Ant to make sure we enforce discipline never
let a woman overwhelm a king.
Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, has placed herself on a collision course with her
uncle, King Creon. Antigone's brother has died in battle, Creon refuses to give him
a proper burial. When Antigone defies Creon, she is banished to a cave. Creon's son,
who is engaged to Antigone, comes to her defense but there are dire consequences.
Passion. Loyalty. Pride. One of Sophocles' best known and most enduring dramas invites
us to ponder the complex moral dilemmas of civil disobedience and the proper exercise