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August 15, 2008

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Kerry Reid

I have seen a metric buttload (yes, that is a scientific quantification) of re-imagined Greek plays, many by Mee. Not many of them were terribly successful, in my view, in part because of what you cite here: what makes the original stories compelling (the influence of the gods on the individual will, for one) is lost in adaptation. (Or, in Mee's case, in his need to call attention to his process --"LOOK! Now I'm smashing up texts from other sources! And now they're doing a postmodern self-consciously silly dance! Pretty clever of me, eh?") Often, I get the feeling that those re-working the original material are hoping to borrow the appearance of gravitas of the ancients in order to score contemporary points, but the points being made either stand well enough on their own without the borrowed finery, though they may be overly familiar (war is dehumanizing, unchecked power and hubris leads to tragedy), or those points get subsumed in the director and/or playwright's clumsy attempt to incorporate some of the conventions of Greek tragedy. So I become aware of how the chorus is being used as a device in a contemporary context ("Oh look, the chorus is like a street gang!" -- that's not an example from anything real, just an imagined for-instance). And I'm not really focusing on the significance of what the chorus is actually saying or how they are affecting (or not affecting) the action onstage.

I don't know if this makes sense, but I would certainly love to hear from some artists who have done a lot of work on updated Greek tragedies to find out how they deal with the very issues you raised here. Because boy, it's puzzling to me why so many people keep giving them makeovers year after year.

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