Sunday, April 13, 2008

Theatre: War and Remembrance

The Cure at Troy by Sean Heaney (based upon the play Philoctetes by Sophocles), directed by Tina Landau, Seattle Repertory Theatre through May 3.

The Rep's season closes on a strong play that requires a little work from the audience to grok. The original was only written about 2500 years back, so there's that problem with both language and time. The performance consists of a six-man cast, half of which serve as the Chorus, an concept familiar to that time but a little more difficult to grasp today - a group that echoes the conflict, stresses the hard parts, serves as all the bit players, and speaks for the gods. Oh, yeah, there is singing, but its really more like an epic poetry slam. But pay attention, and you'll get a cookie.

The original play is by Sophocles, and this version is faithful as far as my wiki-ized knowledge allows me to research. Philoctetes (Boris McGiver) has been stranded on a desert island for ten years, left there by his comrades, including Odysseus (Hans Altwies) when Phil's god-injurred leg made him a bad boat-mate. But Philoctetes has the bow of Hercules, and the Greeks now need that bow to wind up the Trojan War. So Odysseus is back, with young Neoptolemus (Seth Numrich) in tow as his catspaw. Neo's job - get the bow from crippled archer and take off.

And that's what the play is about, at its basic level, how the young man gets the bow, and how he manages to do so without sacrificing his own sense of values and morality. Odysseus is all patriotism and cunning, willing to go to whatever lengths are needed to attain the goal. Philoctetes is crippled but noble, hobbled by both his physical wound and his refusal to get past it. Neoptolemus has to rise above both men in order to succeed.

And it all works. The main actors are strong, and the chorus (Guy Adkins, Ben Gonio and Jon Michael Hill) are fantastic, serving as the permeable layer between audience and actors, gods and men. The chorus is three parts that make up a greater creature, and are a delight to watch.

The set itself is Phil's desolate island, done in a style that only be described as "Early Mordor" and with enough rocks and boulders strewn over it to make it as much of a blocking deathtrap as the padded rotating disks of the recent Moliere. And at a climatic moment, the entire thing threatens to go off the rails as the spirit of Hercules speaks and the lighting evokes Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That was a wincible moment, but to be honest, the original uses this plothammer to wrap things up.

All in all its a challenge of a play, and a good challenge at that. Well worth taking up.

The Cure At Troy is also the last of this season's plays from the Rep, and in general, it was a pretty good season. Best of the lot for us were the comedy Murderers, the monologue How? How? How? Why? Why?, and in particular The Cook. Following that were the two "big productions" of Twelfe Night and The Imaginary Invalid, with the Moliere edging out the Shakespeare. Less successful? By The Waters of Babylon, Birdie Blue, and The Breach, all contending for various levels of pretentiousness. (OK, The Breach was probably the worst of the lot).

Add The Cure At Troy to the win pile for plays I would recommend to others, and that gives us four "A" productions, a couple strong Bs and three clinkers. Much better than the Sonics most recent (most likely final) season.

More later,