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Written, directed and designed by John Jesurun
144 Walker Street
Opened Oct 15th
John Jesurun's Philoktetes is definitely not a gay romp in ancient Greece. It is a poetic masterpiece that made me close my eyes so I could hear and digest the brilliance of his language. Mr. Jesurun directed his script in a contempoorary art mode. I was distracted from his language by the constantly changing movement of videos, both in the background and on the floor. My concetratrion improved exponentially with temporary voluntary video deprivation.Philoktetes telling his own story, brilliantly played by Louis Cancelmi, is abandoned on an island because he was bitten by a snake at a Greek temple's cemetery. His wound smells so badly that he endangers the morale of other soldiers in the seemingly endless Trojan Wars.
Years ago I saw an hospice set AIDS play that made a similar metaphor about powerful, ceaseless body odors and social ostracism. Philoktetes suffers through no fault of his own. Perhaps ancient Greek doctors couldn't help him. Or worse, far worse, offensive odor is a curse from the same gods that started these history changing wars and now won't end it.
There's an annoying homoerotic aspect to this play. If Mr. Jesurun is even slightly criticizing the current Bush Wars, then there's no substantive reason for Neoptolemus, cute and boyishly played by Jason Lew, to demand kisses from the sick, smelly and dying Philoktetes. Obviously the wounded and dying hero isn't going back to the battelfield like our volunteer warriors return to Iraq. He wants to live out his few days in peace, as old men should.
Odysseus, brought to stiff, regimented, frustrated life by Will Badgett, wants to win his war at any cost, including sacrificing Philoktetes. He also knows the arrow of conquest belongs to Philoktetes. The gods have told him so. He can't control the gods or Philoktetes. No soldier, no matter what his rank or desirability, can. War is as big a crap shoot as art. For me that's the ultimate lesson of Philoktetes, a god of peace in his own time.
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