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GREEK THEATER IN NY
WITH RANDY GENER
National Theatre Greece, "Medea," Karyofyllia Karabeti and Maria Katsiadaki
 PROLOGOS (EXPOSITION): Ancient Greek drama comes to New York, Or Anagnorisis approaches
 PARADOS (ENTRANCE OF THE CHORUS): A review of Charles Segal's "Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society"
 AGON (DEBATE): What is it about "Medea"? National Theatre of Greece gives some tantalizing answers
 PARABASIS: Should the Sunday after Rosh Hashana be christened One-Night-Stand-to-Benefits-the-Arts Day?
 EPEISODION (EPISODE): Reconstructing "The Greek World" in a new Routledge anthology
 EXODOS (FINAL SCENE): The avant-garde young Greek director Vasilios Calitsis fuses theatrical forms with the Eleusinian Mysteries
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Related article: On the Razzle with Randy Gener (a New York roundup).
PROLOGOS (EXPOSITION): Ancient Greek drama comes to New York, Or Anagnorisis approaches
The ancient plays are alive and well. Though absent from the public stage after the collapse of the Roman Empire until the nineteenth century, Greek drama is regularly performed today both at the festivals in Epidaurus and Herodes, as well as elsewhere in Europe, and at avant-garde not-for-profit enclaves in America like La MaMa E.T.C., Jean Cocteau Repertory, Classic Stage Company, and American Place Theatre. Though not exactly chart-marking best-sellers, critical studies and new translations overflow the bookshelves: Cambridge University Press recently published a coffee- table book, "Ancient Greece," edited by Paul Cartledge, which surveys the history, art, literature, and society of ancient times. The University of Pennsylvania Press has launched its own ambitious series of new translations or reinterpretations of all the extant Greek drama, called "Penn Greek Drama Series," edited by David R. Slavitt and Palmer Bovie; the first four in the project include plays, both tragic and comic, by Aeschylus, Euripedes, Sophocles, and Menander. This "On the Razzle," discusses Charles Segal's study, "Sophocles's Tragic World" and a historical anthology by Anton Powell from Routledge Press, "The Greek World."
The great age of the Greek drama was the fifth century B.C. Yet 3000 years later, I think it's pretty fair to say that we are in the midst of another great age of Greek drama revivalism. Though some critics would say we live in postmodernist times, I would like to self-consciously break free from appropriation theories, Lacanian semiotics, and Foucaultian notions of subjectivity and discourse. As Elinor Fuchs brilliantly points out in "The Death of Character" (Indiana University Press, 1996): "Like a hologram that produces three-dimensional objects through a mysterious transformation of two-dimensional images, post-modernism has been an elusive story of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't." Still, we must acknowledge the great passing of time since the great age of Greek drama, and we must recognize the correlative change in its significance for us, postmoderns, which reflects the numinous differences in theatrical meaning and production values that such a time lag causes. Speaking broadly, even scholars and classicists do not agree on how Greek drama was performed during its 100-year heyday. By contrast, though we make a sincere effort to produce the ancient plays in the manner in which they were originally done, the truth is even theater practitioners from Greece (see the interview with National Theatre of Greece below) can only give an honest approximation of how they think it was all done. Very little is truly known about the original productions. And so every new production can't help but reflect its own biases, preoccupations, interests, and subjectivities.
Indeed, a quick look at what we might expect in terms of Greek drama during the 1997-98 theatrical season almost self-reflexively reveals that things- change and that things-stay-the-same. For one, the plays by Euripedes, particularly "Medea," still loom very large in the theatrical memory. The myth of the barbarian Woman who kills her own offspring to spite her philandering husband, while routine in the animal kingdom, seems so extreme and confounding to rational-thinking humans (yet so prevalent in the tabloids) that it is not very surprising to see that there are three "Medea" scheduled to go into production. For another, Sophocles and Euripedes also loom large in the personality sweepstakes. Where the comedies of Aristophanes require knowledge of the tragic world he satirizes, and where the "Oresteia" (458 B.C.) by Aeschylus seems too hieratic, difficult, and high-faluting in its poetry and theology and politics, the reputations of Sophocles and Euripedes have been consistently high--Euripedes because his deeply ironic and intellectual satisfaction jibes with the skepticism of our blighted age, and Sophocles because (Freudian complexes aside) his elevated seriousness provides a "religious" center in a secular world where political and moral compasses are broken.
The Greek world, with its mythic preoccupation of the roles of men and women in society, casts a very long shadow over our (postmodern) society, eternally obsessed and perplexed as we are with gender, class, sex, race, and performativity. Among the most striking aspects of Greek tragedy is the preponderance of strong roles created for female characters, like Elektra and Medea and the Trojan Women. So while private and informal theatricals used female actors, slaves or hetaerae, the great tragedies were written and performed exclusively by men, and the audiences at the festivals at Dionysus were overwhelmingly males. This means that tragic emotions were generated through the medium of female impersonation or cross-dressing. As Alisa Solomon brilliantly formulates in "Re-Dressing the Canon" (Routledge Press, 1997): "Western drama's foundation in female impersonation can be found to this day....Indeed, the mutability of human identity promised by theater, and figured by the norm of tranvestism, is precisely what makes theater the queerest art, perennially subject to railing by those with a stake in promoting the 'natural order' of the status quo."
So in celebration of the Greek theater, let us now turn to (post)modern-day productions of our classical heritage. Below, I list, in chronological order, every Greek drama production scheduled for production this season in New York--and that is known to me, as of press time. Speaking broadly, what these productions provide are living, breathing examples not merely of the relevance or immediacy of Greek drama today but of its absolute necessity in providing us a kind of anagnorisis (recognition or discovery) about its essentially mysterious nature. For rather than bringing us as close as possible to the original extant dramas, Greek drama today fleshes out how ineluctably strange they are, how alien, how very foreign. After all, who can be certain that the ancient Greek plays actually worked even for the Greeks?
"Medea"--Adapter and director Jennifer Spahr casts a male in the role of Medea. Performances at Expanded Arts on 85 Ludlow Street (between Delancey and Broome on the Lower East Side) are from September 6 to 29, Sunday to Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12. Call (212) 253-1813 for more reservations.
"Medea"--In the production by The National Theatre of Greece, the classic tragedy by Euripedes is performed by a female actor: Karyofyllia Karabeti under the direction of Niketi Kontouri and designed by Yorgos Patsas. Performances at New York's City Center on 130 West 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) are from September 23 through 27. Wednesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Call (212) 581-1212 for more information.
"Oedipus"--Despite its title, this new play written and directed by Dare Clubb is not a translation of Sophocles's play. So what is it about? The press releases says that Clubb "blends dark humor and sensuality, casting fresh light on an old story. The play asks serious and gleeful questions about the nature of destiny in our time." And so "Oedipus presents the spectacle of a young man puzzling through a chaotic journey of desire, choice, fate, and the seeming frivolity of the gods." In other words, this play flirts with the mythic theme of Oedipus."Without Limits" film actor Billy Crudup performs the lead role along with Academy Award- winner Frances McDormand, in the Blue Light Theater Company's production. Performances at the CSC Theatre on 136 East 13th Street beginning September 20 with an official opening on October 11 and running through October 25. Call (212) 265-8370 for more information
"The World Mysteries: The Mysteries of Eleusis"--Conceived, written and directed by Vasilios Calitsis and co-written with Tasos Roussos. Performances at Brooklyn Academy of Music Majestic Theater on 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn are from October 14 to 17 at 7:30 p.m. and October 18 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $35, 25, 15. Call BAM Ticket Services at (718) 636-4100 for more information.
"The Iphigenia Cycle"--Acclaimed director Joanne Akalaitis directs. Performances at The American Place Theater on 111 West 46th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues begin January 1, 1999 with an official opening on February 24 and running through February 14. Call (212) 239-6200 for more information.
"Medea"--In a very special engagement, The Great Jones Repertory performs the first part of the legendary production of "Fragments of a Greek Trilogy" directed by Andrei Serban and composed by Elizabeth Swados. Performances at La Mama E.T.C. on 74A East Fourth Street are from March 18 to April 11, 1999 at 7:30 p.m. Call (212) 475-7710 for more information.
"Electra"--Immediately following "Medea," The Great Jones Repertory performs the second part of the legendary production of "Fragments of a Greek Trilogy" directed by Andrei Serban and composed by Elizabeth Swados. Performances at La Mama E.T.C.'s Annex Theater on 74A East Fourth Street are from March 25 to April 11, 1999 at 7:30 p.m. Call (212) 475-7710 for more reservations.
PARADOS (ENTRANCE OF THE CHORUS): A review of Charles Segal's "Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society"
"Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society" by Charles Segal Harvard University Press (www.hup.harvard.edu) Paperback, 276 pages, 1998
In "Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society," Charles Segal has written a superb critical study of five of the seven extant plays by Sophocles. In particular, they are "Ajax," "Antigone," "Trachinian Women," "Philoctetes," and (most incisively) "Oedipus Tyrannus." Segal's analytical interests goes beyond the usual discussion of the nature of heroic greatness or tragic stature. He is principally concerned with the "tragic world" which Sophocles depicts: "the human relations of family and city, the conflicts and complementarities between men and women, the social institutions that the heroes both need and in some measure reject or defy, and the larger framework of nature and the gods."
In other words, what Segal, the Walter C. Klein professor of the Classics at Harvard University, explores are the formal design of the plays and their implications for the Greeks, as revealed through the poetry of the language and the sociology of the era. "Sophoclean tragedy, like all of Greek tragedy," Segal writes, "is a kind of poetic laboratory for exploring different and sometimes conflicting models of moral, social, and political order, the relation between the sexes, the limits and possibilities of human perception, and understanding, and the questions of the meaning of human life generally."
Ambitious as this study may seem, Segal writes in a lucid, jargon-free prose that is also dramaturgy of the highest order. In his discussion of "Ajax," he reveals how Sophocles uses a Rashomon-like structure of multiple perspectives in order to gain some understanding of Ajax's night of suicidal madness from the perspective of his noble stature. Ajax is a proud warrior, yet his status as a hero is put into question by Sophocles's innovative use of perspective. By staging the various and differing perspectives of Athena, Odysseus, Tecmessa and later (in a great monologue) Ajax himself, Sophocles prismatically shows the great paradoxes and inherent problems of heroic individuality and nobility. And it's a dramaturgical technique that digs deeper with each retelling of the events of Ajax's night of madness. Segal's strength as a critic issues directly from a wide-ranging sensitivity to the epic tradition and a nuanced awareness of the dramatic use of temporal shifts and poetic displacements.
Segal's terrific, lucid book should also be required reading for anyone interested in the tragic stature of women in Greek tragedy. His complex thinking on the subject gives justice to the basic intractability of Sophocles's views on nature of feminine sensibility. Segal devotes two chapters to the often neglected "Trachinian Women" and takes full measure of their mythic seriousness. He examines the scandalous differences in the heroic values between Heracles and Deianeira. He delineates the pattern of retributive justice that cuts through the arena of marriage and sexuality. It is highly unlikely that any classicist can compare to the breadth and intelligence and perspicacity that informs Segal's critical understanding of "Trachinian Women."
AGON (DEBATE): What is it about "Medea"? National Theatre of Greece gives some tantalizing answers.
The classical scholar, Denys L. Page, in the preface to his edition of the Greek text of "Medea" (1938), says:
"Here, indeed, for the first time in Greek theatre, the power of the drama lies rather in the characters than in their actions. Medea's emotions are far more moving than her revenge; Jason's state of mind is more interesting than his calamity. The murder of children, caused by jealousy and anger against their father, is mere brutality; if it moves at all, it does so towards incredulity and horror.... But the emotions of the woman whose love turned to hatred, and equally those of the man who loves no longer, represent something eternal and unchangeable in human nature; here we find, what in great drama we must always seek, the universal in the particular."
Such is the magnitude of the extant tragedy by Euripedes, which he wrote in 431 B.C., that many Greek scholars have attempted to explain, in humanistic terms, the blazing yet barbarous terms of Euripedes's Medeament. The granddaugher of Helios (the Sun), Medea is a compelling heroine. She is a cunning sorceress, manipulative witch, clever female, domineering wife and vengeful mother who killed her own children in order to spite her husband Jason who abandoned her in favour of a younger woman.
However, Denys Page, in the above quote, is mistaken in one very significant count: Medea is not universal. For Medea is at once like us and not like us, according to actress Karyofyllia Karabeti and director Niketi Kontouri, interviewed in New York several months before the one-week engagement of a new translation of "Medea" at New York's City Center on 130 West 55th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) from September 23 through 27.
"Because Medea's first monologue when she comes to the stage is a feministic statement, she speaks a lot about the problems of women," says director Niketi Kontouri. "In fact, she's absolute evil. She knows how to manipulate people, either women or men or children, and eventually, she's transformed from a woman in love and a mother into a demon. In our production, she's a monster. So while we're used to judging her as if she were one of us, the fact is she is not one of us. We could possibly carry a tiny, tiny bit of her inside us. But she is, was, and never will be one of us."
Indeed, the great choreographer Pina Bausch, who saw Kontouri's "Medea" in the open theatre in Epidaurus, describes the production as essentially post- modernist in its depiction of the barbarian woman. "What Bausch meant," says Kontouri, "is that our 'Medea' combines the telling of the story with the geometrical confrontation of people moving in space, appearing and disappearing." The National Theatre of Greece's version of "Medea" displays strong passions and strong feelings. But, Kontouri says, "everything is clear, the sets are simple sets, and for almost two hours on the stage, we give stylized performances." In other words, Kontouri's formalistic production harks back to the essential nature of Medea: that she is the daughter of King Aeetes, strong-willed and imaginative and powerful and brutal and raw and essentially a foreigner.
To emphasize this sense of otherness, ritual plays a huge part in Kontouri's "Medea." One of her decisive gestures is the use of two puppets, instead of real human beings, to play the parts of the children. Polishing off the aesthetic frame of the performance, she also nixed the traditional idea of using masks and instead employs make-up to hide the actors' faces. The Chorus of Women, who are either blind or mutes or incapable to fully articulate their reaction (they speak in ancient tongues) are dressed in white flowing robes, with heads covered with white headbands. And their eyes are made up to look dark, hollow and mysterious.
"It's not a question of being contemporary," insists Kontouri. "It's always a challenge to decide whether to use or not to use masks. But I chose makeup because I like the audience to keep a close contact all the time with actors. They are the ones who have to perform the play. Actors give life to these parts. They communicate with bodies and faces." Masks, on the other hand, create a differet sort of distance between audience and actors.
Karyofyllia Karabeti's Medea, meanwhile, stands out from the cast; she's dressed in scarlet, the color of blood. But for Karabeti, the makeup nevertheless has the effect of being like a formidable mask. Says Karabeti: "When I put on the make up, I feel many emotions, and they conflict with each other. They are deep emotions because there is a great anger in Medea, a heroic anger that derives from the betrayal, the humiliation, the injustice she has received. She has given everything to Jason [and helped him get the Golden Fleece]. She denied her own people and has been banished from her country. And now Jason abandons her for another woman. Medea is a witch. She is a priestess with magic powers. She's not only human being; she has divine aspects. In performance, Medea's predicament makes it difficult for actors to carry around all this background on a stage. So there must be a special energy in the form of body and in the use of the voice so that she's attractive and fascinating and dangerous. I think of her as serpent. Because she loves her children, she struggles inside. Though she is victorious in the end, this victory is also a defeat, for she sacrifices her more beloved creatures, her children."
Not only is "Medea" an influential and innovational tragedy in the Western canon, it is also one of the most devouring roles in dramatic literature. Says Karabeti: "Medea needs all your energy. An actress needs to forget that you are getting tired; you have to give all of yourself, and more." Karabeti will be a treat to American audiences because she is one one Greece's most celebrated classical actors whose numerous credits include "Macbeth," "Miss Julie," "Helena," "Antigone," "Lulu," and "The Duchess of Malfi." In fact, she was the one who chose Kontouri to direct "Medea," which marks Kontouri's first production for the National Theatre of Greece. So ravenous and formidable is the role that Karabeti's Medea will surely draw comparisons with Judith Anderson's Medea in 1947 (a performance in the old-fashioned, melodramatic manner), Zoe Caldwell's 1982 Medea (which emphasized her sexuality), Diana Rigg's 1994 Medea (which stressed her cold intellectuality), and Phyllicia Rashad's African American Medea in 1998.
"Plays like 'Medea,'" adds Kontouri, "don't let you stay quiet and calm and sure. It's always tense. You have to be open to new things. You have to be well prepared to face the problems that are revealing themselves everyday. It's a tremendous play. It's difficult and horrible, beautiful and poetic, human and inhuman."
The National Theatre of Greece's "Medea" follows a highly successful production of Sophocles's "Elektra," performed and directed by another great Greek actress, Lydia Koniourdou whose touching, spare production which made this critic weep.
"'Elektra' opened the borders for us," says Kontouri, who was born in Ioannina, Greece and received her masters in film and theater direction at Hunter College. "This international tour will help us keep in touch of what is going on in other parts of the world, mostly in Europe. We are all connected to the spirit of those ancient plays. We do have contemporary theater in Greece, but it is really hard to break the barriers of the language. And so we're isolated. But performing the ancient plays allows us go all over the world with our heritage and combine our tradition with the new theatrical forms."
PARABASIS: Should the Sunday after Rosh Hashana be christened One-Night- Stand-to-Benefits-the-Arts Day?
(Author's note: Parabasis is the moment when the leader of the chorus steps out of dramatic character in order to address the audience in behalf of the poet or author. So "On the Razzle" pauses for a few public announcements.)
In commemoration of President Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinskygate and other assorted infidelities, we would like to suggest to any intelligent, incumbent and not neccessarily adulterous politician to propose the weekend after Rosh as "One-Night-Stand-to-Benefits-the-Arts" Day. This idea came to mind when "On the Razzle" realized that the weekend after Rosh Hashana seems to be a big month for blocks parties and one-night only engagements for the "Arts." And while "On the Razzle" does not believe in fomenting immorality, it is important to put positive twists on potentially hurtful behavior. And, hey, if such a day will help the "Ahrts" continue to survive, why not? Consider the following events:
(1) "Block Party for the Arts"--Joseph Papp Public Theatre will holds its fourth annual all-day outdoor celebration of community arts this Sunday September 27 from 12 noon to 6 p.m. The event features live performances by independent band Betty, Circus Amok, District 6 Jazz Band, Djoniba Dance and Drum, Harlem Gospel Spirituals, Project 400 Theater Group, and a Brooklyn-based tap ensemble called The Young Hoofers. The block party is free and open to the public. It will take place on Lafayette Street between East 4th Street and Astor Place.
(2) "Matsuri on 47th Street"--This is a Japanese Street Festival on Sunday September 27 from 12 noon to 4 p.m. on East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues. Sponsored by the Japan Society, matsuri features crafts and demonstrations (tea ceremony, kitemaking, origami, ikebana (flower arrangement), hange (woodblock printing), obento (elegant lunch box), and shogi (chess); onstage Taiko drumming and martial arts; entertainment like yoyo fishing and mikoshi shrine procession; and food from premiere Japanese restaurants. Bring the family. It's free admission. Call (212) 832-1155.
(3) The 12th Annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction is being held Sunday, September 27 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. the grand auction will feature opening night tickets to musicals like "Footloose," "Swan Lake," "On the Town" and "Peter Pan"; walk-on roles in Broadway's big hits like "Beauty and the Beast," "The Sound of Music," "Rent" and "Jekyll & Hyyde"; and memorabilia signed by Jerry Seinfeld, Elizabeth Taylor, Stephen Sondheim, Bill Cosby, and the casts of "Guiding Light." For more information, call (212) 840-0770.
(4) "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies"--A one-night only concert at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and 7th Avenue) will be held at 8 p.m. on September 28. The host is Julie Andrews. And the stars expected to show up are: Nell Carter, Lea DeLaria, Jennifer Holiday, Judy Kuhn, Faith Prince, Debra Monk, Donna Murphy, Rosie O'Donnell, Chita Rivera, Audra McDonald, Karen Ziemba. A portion of the proceeds benefit AMFRA and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. And if you miss if, the evening will be televised for PBS-TV's "Great Performances." Tickets range from $50 to $250. Call Carnegie Charge at (212) 247-7800.
Perhaps one of the most exciting new non-Greek additions to the 1997-98 theatrical season is the Broadway revival of "On The Town." The show's original stars Lea DeLaria, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Robert Montano are reprising their performances at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. As a special gift to New York City and in celebration of the city's centennial, the Public Theater has set aside specially priced preview tickets. Although "On the Razzle" is not trying to subvert Ticket Central, we here at The New York Theatre Wire find it our obligation to inform the public of any good theater deals.
AND SO: All seats for previews of ON THE TOWN will be priced between $19.00 and $44.00, commemorating the year the musical was written, 1944. Tickets for On the Town are on sale now at The Gershwin Theatre box office, 222 West 51st Street or by calling Ticketmaster, 212-307-4100 (outside New York, call 800-755-4000). Preview tickets will be priced as follows: Orchestra and Front Mezzanine, $44.00; Mid Mezzanine, $35.00; Rear Mezzanine and rows BB, CC and DD of the Orchestra, $19.00. These prices are valid for all performances from Tuesday, October 20 through Wednesday, November 18. Meanwhile, Post-opening ticket prices will skyrocket, as follows: Orchestra and Front Mezzanine, $75.00; Mid Mezzanine, $65.00; Rear Mezzanine, $25.00; and day of performance rush tickets, $20.00. For Wednesday matinees: Orchestra and Front Mezzanine, $70.00; Mid Mezzanine, $60.00; Rear Mezzanine, $25.00; and day of performance rush tickets, $20.00. These prices are valid for all performances beginning Thursday, November 19. So aren't you glad your search engine surfed you, here?
By the way, Carol Fineman, Tom Naro and the extraordinary Bill Coyle did not have to bribe me to report that "On the Town"'s regular performance schedule at The Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st Street, will be Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. During the first three weeks of previews, from October 20 through November 8, the performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. And if you don't know yet, the Broadway-bound revival of "On the Town" will be directed by George C. Wolfe and choreographed by Keith Young. It was produced last summer at The Delacorte Theater as part of the 42nd season of Shakespeare in Central Park. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and is based on a concept by Jerome Robbins. "On the Razzle" will give a fuller, deeper, more insightful report, as soon as its investigative- reporting budget gets restored to its original free-spending status.
Anyway, it has come to our attention that the Atlantic Theater Company (336 West 20th Street) is producing the much-anticipated "The Cider House Rules." Playwright Peter Parnell has written the adaptation of John Irving's best selling novel, conceived and directed by Tom Hulce and Jane Jones. Performances of "The Cider House Rules" are scheduled to begin in February 1999. Casting and additional information will be forthcoming, from the pressies at Boneau/Bryan- Brown. We, here, at "On the Razzle," are simply delighted that, after a long time of sucking up to the already well-enfranchised Brits, the Atlantic Theatre has finally found some wherewithal to produce a new play by a native playwright, other than David Mamet. So long live the Revolution!
"On the Razzle" congratulates Todd Haimes who was named by the for-profit Livent to become its new artistic director. However, I deeply regret that it will be now be impossible for "On the Razzle" to simply pick up the phone and casually chat with Haimes (who always made himself available to the working press), because he will now be surrounded by lizardly agents and scaly bureaucracy. Still, we here at the New York Theatre Wire find it meaningful and significant that Haimes is holding on to his current non-profit job of artistic director of Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. I can only surmise that Haimes has done this probably in case Livent doesn't work out. Haimes has been the Artistic Director of the Roundabout Theater Company since July 1, 1990. From 1983 to 1990, he served as the theater's executive director, overseeing the company's finances, marketing and fundraising. During his 15-year tenure, Haimes established a director-in- residence position for directors such as Scott Ellis and Michael Mayer, and we hope that Haimes's move to Livent still means that other superb directors like Susanna Tubert and Lee Breur and David Herskovitz will still be given a chance to do their excellent work for Roundabout.
As for the much publicized internal investigation at Livent, which revealed accounting irregularities in the company's financial records that would require it to restate prior financial statements, "On the Razzle" would just like to say: Well, darlings, we told you so.
EPEISODION (EPISODE): EPEISODION (EPISODE): Reconstructing "The Greek World" in a new Routledge anthology
"The Greek World" Edited by Anton Powell Routledge Press Paperback, 622 pages, $49.99, 1998
Traditional scholarship of Greek history, arts and society privileges the lives and opinions of the ruling circles of aristocratic citizens (what feminists call the patriarchy). In particular, historical surveys center primarily on the first democrats: the fully enfranchised Greek male citizen. Even the extant drama deals primarily with how gods affect, ruin, manipulate, and get influenced by the aristocratic citizens whose lifestyle and politics pretty much form most of what we, moderns, call "the glory that was Greece."
Only in recent years have the lives and opinions and social organization of non-aristocratic Greeks (the poor, the women, the slaves, the helots, the farmer) been illuminated with any degree of in-depth study. The shift in focus has been significant and, to modern eyes, fully appreciated. The Greeks outside the ruling classes are certainly worthy scholarly attention, and not just because theories of evolution or migration are racially prejudiced. Such language with race or such means of classification are rightly discredited today. The origins of an ancient people are difficult to be attested by extant written texts. The available archaeological evidence has, until today, been relatively mute with regards to the work of non-aristocrats. For instance, the Greeks tended to slap all foreigners with the label of barbarians as effeminate and fit only for slavery. The extant drama or literary texts give very little help, too. The identification of Greek people from a cultural perspective may reveal something about the Greek world. But literature is a morass of myth and legend; its point of view is determined and influenced by the author. When we consider that the surviving Greek texts are primarily dominated by women, like those by Aristophanes, we must also realize that women rarely performed during public theatricals and that men constituted most of the audience.
History is written and determined by the victors. So a full and adequate understanding of the ancient world must include not just the high culture but also the "low culture." A proper understanding of who the rulers were cannot be made without an examination of the lives and world of those who were ruled. Both high and low culture illuminate each other, like two faces of a mirror. This is where "The Greek World," a towering and magisterial new anthology, becomes highly valuable and completely indispensable. Collectively, the 27 highly accessibly and highly authoritative chapters in this scholarly book reflect a broad and stunning array of interests and fields by a world class team of experts who give a well researched accounts of the physical environment, sociology, lives, and economic underpinnings of the Athenians who lives in the margins of the ancient world.
"The Greek World" is divided into four thematic parts: "The Greek Majority," "Greeks (and non-Greeks in the Margins," "Greeks and their Physical Environment," and "Religion and Philosophy." In "Greek Majority," the scholars examine a diverse range of fields (the social organization of Mycenaean civilization, the role of slavery in supporting the lives of Athenian citizens, archaic poetry, military organizations, and medical records) in order to reconstruct the lives of the people in the margins: the women who had a hand in building the Parthenon, the seafarers or pirates "whose very name," according to the book, "suggests their exclusion from margins of power," and distinct tribal or sectional interests within the larger society. (Racially speaking, the Greek world was not solely composed of "whites.") My favorite chapter is the beautifully researched essay on what the classical scholar J. R. Morgan astutely calls "the Greek novel." In this chapter, he considers extant writings, which are neither lyric poetry or dramatic literature; they do not conform to our understanding of the "serious novel," as such, either. Given that the novel is a modern invention, and that the development of the novel has now moved toward a kind of experimental or Joycean formlesseness and versatility, it's surprising that five surviving works of fictional narratives in prose did exist. "The five extant novels form a tightly coherent corpus with similar not to say stereotyped plots and thematic repertoires," writes Morgan. And they all involved heros and heroines, and their plots inevitably involved courtship, a series of adventures, sometimes adultery, and culminating in marriage. The rest of the essay proposes different ways of theorizing what kind of people wrote these texts and who their intended audience were.
For those who love Greek drama, the chapters on "Religion and Philosophy" are most revealing. They discuss in scholarly detail the forms and function of religious blood-sacrifice to Greek life--and also their great variety. In these chapters, the scholars go beyond those forms of ancient religion which have been "easily assimilated to Western notions of secular power and to Christian and Protestant beliefs." (A famous example are the great Panhellenic games at Olympia.) One of these obscure cult sacrifices (and one of the bloodiest) are the sacrifices involved in the Eleusinian Mysteries, which is, unfortunately, not discussed. Two other chapters involve discussions of the bacchic rites involved in early Orphism (which is fathered in Orpheus and like Pythagoras followed the rule of vegetarianism) and Ionic theological thought. The latter traces us to the beginning of what we now know as the natural sciences. It is a preSocratic cosmology that attempts to explain the nature of man and the divine through three theological principles: atheism, affirmation of a transendant deity outside the scope of "natural science"; and the affirmation of an intelligible deities or deities within the scope of natural science (without contradicting the previous two principles).
And since "The Greek World" is a Routledge Press book, you will not be surprised to learn that the book contains mostly gray matter. Brainy and insightful, it is certainly not as richly illustrated as, say, editor Paul Cartledge's "Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece." So if you are the type of reader whose attention can be grabbed only by the bright lights and bright colors of a picture-color book, "The Greek World" is not the book for you. The smattering of illustrations and drawings and pictures which pepper this anthology make one lust and hunger for graphics and pictures. However, if you don't mind reading lucid prose that's superbly organized and thematically linked, "The Greek World" makes for juicy reading. It details the latest and greatest in the field of ancient history. Written with well-chosen words that give the mind nutritious fodder for thought, this is an account of recent major developments that examines the marginal elements of Greek society. And though the introduction of the book takes pains to say that this is not comprehensive history, this substantial volume nevertheless engages intrepid Greek readers, both specialists and non-specialists alike, by way of opening a window to the ancient world and its full impact on the modern world.
EXODOS (FINAL SCENE): The avant-garde young Greek director Vasilios Calitsis fuses theatrical forms with the Eleusinian Mysteries
"The 'mystery religions,' exemplified in the ritual practices at Eleusis, have seemed to some a higher or more spiritual dimension of paganism, in virtue of their serious concern with the fate of the soul after death," according to classical scholar Richard Buxton. Religion so permeated every aspect of the sacrificial community (polis) of the Greeks. Vegetables and animal sacrifices were offered to the gods became part of the religious observance in ancient Greece. Initiation into the Eleusianian Mysteries were open to all Greeks. As opposed to festivals like the Thesmophoria (for Demeter, and which was restricted to women) and the Anthesteria (which were open to slaves and young children who were not citizens until they reach 18 years old), participation in the civic cult of the Eleusianian Mysteries embraced everybody: the politai (adult, male, free citizens), women, the slaves who dined with their masters, and non-Greeks (provided they could understand the language). And so in such religious rites it was believed that unity can be made possible; fusion of the spirit is made flesh and blood. The Eleusianian Mysteries was an agrarian cult celebrating Demeter and her daughter Persephone. And the theme of this myth involved spiritual resurrection or renewal, which is symbolized by the abduction and return of Persephone from Hades.
So it makes perfect sense that "The World Mysteries: The Mysteries of Eleusis" fuses a variety of genres in order to bring all the various artistic and spiritual traditions of many different cultures into focus. That's what makes Vasilios Calitsis's theatrical concept of bringing together an international cast of actors, dancers, musicians (representing the United States, Japan, China, Indian, Spain, Greece, France, Italy, Germany and Great Britain) so brilliant. In an ambitious fusion of Greek tragedy and Indian performance style, Calitsis's "Hyppolytos" premiered at LaMaMa E.T.C. in 1992 to great acclaim. With "The World Mysteries," he returns "to take spectators beyond words and images, transporting them from the mundane to an ecstatic vision."
Calitsis's mission is a very tall order. By drawing on ancient song and dance, Calitsis will more than likely bring fresh renewal to old, crusty traditions and attempt what is possible only in the theater: the unification of the world cultures into one stunning theatrical vision. The various styles he has chosen is breathtaking: Greek tragedy, Kabuki, Noh, Kathakali, flamenco, and Chinese opera. And the roster of performances astonishes with its breadth and depth. Leanne Benjamin of the Royal Ballet performs Persephone. Matsui Akira represents Noh Theater. Wu Hsing-Kuo and Wei Hai-Min represent Chinese Opera. The great American actress Irene Worth records the role of the Mystagogue. So while the above description may sound like a pick-and- choose approach to dramaturgy, it's important to remember Richard Buxton's words: "Instead of regarding the Greeks as pagan who occasionally showed inklings of something finer, most students of Greek religion now concentrate on how ancient ritual and myth were integrated both with each other and within a wider social context." So true is this statement that he might also be talking about Calitsis's extraordinary project, which gets a U.S. premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (There are only five performances, so make reservations soon. And there's a BAMDialogue with Calitsis on October 15 at 6 p.m. with an $8 admission.) As the late Ross Wetzsteon said: "Theater began in religious ritual--what could be more millennial than attempting to revive an impulse 3000 years old?" [Gener]
Copyright © 1998 Randy Gener.
Randy Gener has performed the role of Oedipus in a high school production of "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles. Since his theatrical debut, he has directed "Antigone" by Euripedes, "Lysistrata" by Aristophanes and "Oedipus Tyrannus" by Sophocles. A New York-based writer and theater critic, Gener contributes to The Village Voice, The Star Ledger, Stagebill, American Theatre, and Dramatists Guild Quarterly. He writes "Show & Tell," a column on the fine arts for HX Magazine/HX For Her. His e-mail address is RNDYGENER@AOL.COM.
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