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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Ajax Playwright: Sophocles
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2001-05-16

This article shared 2245 times since Wed May 16, 2001
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If the tradesmen in A Midsummer Night's Dream had attempted a war play instead of a love story, the results might have resembled this production. From the moment we enter the auditorium, welcomed noisily by a chorus of Greek sailors wearing identical mustaches and ouzo-soaked accents, every care is taken to ensure our comprehension. We even have a guide in the stageside presence of classics scholar Edith Hamilton, who occasionally interrupts the dramatic action to acquaint us with theatrical conventions circa 442 BC and how the author and/or director Sean Graney breaks with such. ( "The ancient Greeks used fake blood...just not as much as we do." )

And there is blood aplenty. After all, Ajax is a combat veteran who goes nuts and kills all the local livestock before impaling himself on his own sword. ( If not for the ASPCA, this would have been a Sylvester Stallone vehicle long ago. ) But there's a social message, too: when our dead hero's brother Teucros wants to bury him, General Menelaus says a head case like Ajax doesn't deserve a decent funeral. Whereupon Teucros offers to take on the whole Trojan army...the stuck-up Agememnon especially...until good-guy Odysseus intervenes, reminding both that the war is over.

The Hypocrites attack their material with an ingenuous enthusiasm usually found only among children to whom the old myths are timely as the latest video game and period accuracy an irrelevant impediment. So we get a messenger...not Hermes, but an ordinary mortal...equipped with wings and aviator's goggles. The leading players wear cothurni like toy boats strapped to their shoes ( the tallest ones elevating pint-sized Jennifer Grace's Agememnon to a suitably lofty height ) . Ajax' young son is represented by a chubby-cheeked doll. And our hero punctuates his farewell speech...oddly long-winded for the usually concise Sophocles...with decidedly unheroic, but very human, second-thought hesitations.

As every Athenian was aware, a text was merely a physical record, and its performance, the actual play. But nowadays, excessive reverence too often leads to academic exercises bereft of the immediacy required to invoke the emotions mandated by the very aesthetic its advocates would preserve. But whatever faults purists may find with the Hypocrites' gleefully juvenile approach to the Classics, a lack of immediacy is certainly not one of them.

THE SEAGULL

Playwright: Anton Chekhov, new version by Tom Stoppard

At: Time Line Theater

Tickets: $15; Phone: 312-409-8463

Runs through: June 3

by Gregg Shapiro

As a Chekhov virgin ( yes, I admit it ) , I was intrigued at the prospect of seeing Tom Stoppard's new version of The Seagull. After all, Stoppard has a gift for writing about love and The Seagull is a play with a lot of love in it.

The arrival of actress Arkadina ( Donna Smother McGough ) , her new love, novelist Trigorin ( Christopher Thometz ) and her brother Sorin ( Leonard Kraft ) to Sorin's Russian estate ( 50 miles south of Moscow ) creates a bit of havoc in the small country town. Arkadina's struggling playwright son Konstantin ( P.J. Powers ) is a playwright who doesn't believe in the theater. He is in love with Nina ( Juliet Hart ) , a very young actress from a tragic background, who is drawn to the stage "like a seagull drawn to the lake."

During a performance of Konstantin's play for the out-of-towners, and some townspeople, including schoolteacher Medvedenko ( James Daniels ) , his love Masha ( Michele DiMaso ) ...who is in love with Konstantin, Masha's parents Shamraev ( Jerry Razowsky ) and Polina ( Lynne Hall ) ...the caretakers of Sorin's estate, Dorn ( Bill McGough ) the doctor, Arkadina causes the performance to come to an abrupt end and the real melodrama begin. The Seagull explores unrequited love, mother-son relationships, the role of the artist in society, and more unrequited love.

With a few notable exceptions, this cast inhabited their characters as if they were a personally tailored suit if clothes. As Arkadina, in her brightly colored gowns ( with a nod to costume designer Joanne Witzkowski ) , Ms. McGough was the embodiment of the mother who eats her young, but looks beautiful while doing it. Mr. Powers made us feel pity for Kostantin's lost soul and Ms. Hart's Nina was as ethereal as Ms. DiMaso's Masha was permanently grounded. Kevin Hagan's functional scenic design allowed the stage on the stage to be transformed into a room, but not without sacrificing sight lines


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