New York.- By Vicki James Yiannas
It was impossible to feel bored. Acting, music, costumes, set, and video in Hercules: In Search of a Hero, came together in such a high-quality production that only a weekend snowstorm prevented my second, or even third viewing.
Ioanna Katsarou’s innovative, arrestingly paced experimental play, Hercules: In Search of a Hero was performed by Eclipses Theater Group New York (ETGNY) at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Long Island City, NY on November 8-10, under the auspices and strong support of the Consulate General of Greece
Director/Concept Dramaturge, Ioanna Katsarou describes Hercules: In Search of a Hero as “a new play using Euripides’ material in a new context. I didn’t try to reproduce an Ancient Greek Play that follows the Aristotelian rules but to create a new theater piece inspired by the two plays by Euripides and using extracts from these two plays along with some original text.”
The very accomplished performers in alphabetical order: Luisa Alarcon: Alcestis, Demetri Bonaros: Admetos, Servant/Death and Madness, Luke Couzens: Hercules, Helena Farhi: Megara, Hercules’ wife, Alexandra Skendrou: Goddess, Taj Sood: child in video. Alexandra Skendrou, a coiffed blond Goddess dressed in a black cocktail dress and preening before her mirror, was one of the play’s camp elements; others were the simpering Admetos cuddling his teddy bear, and Hercules’ Viet Nam War stereotype in camouflage pants, combat boots, with bare torso, long hair and headband.
A perfect, minimal set of vanity table/ bar, bed, and enormous white hanging serving for projection of Scene titles and video by Christos Alexandrines, clever costuming by Marina Gkoumla and assistant Vivian Triviza, great sound composition by Costas Baltazanis, affecting video of Megara and child by Alex Agisilaou, lighting by Christina Watanabe, sstage direction by Anastasia Thanasouola.
In Euripides’ Alcestis, Heracles goes to the underworld and brings back Alcestis, wife and mother, who agreed to die in place of her husband the king, Admetos, so he could accept Apollo’s gift of never dying. In his Heracles, Heracles comes back from the underworld after one of his Labors and induced to frenzy by Madness, massacres his family, thinking they are the children of his enemy.
“My biggest concern from the beginning was to conceive what these classical characters represent in our modern world,” Katsarou told the GN, “I needed to find similarities and connections between these characters and our own reality, otherwise this production would have been merely a romantic fairytale with heroes, gods and supernatural phenomena. Euripides himself didn’t want that for his plays, and he always used the mythical material to challenge his own society and reality. I just tried to follow in
and action movies, but also heroic figures in real life throughout history.” She went on to say that people need to have heroes, need to believe that someone is capable of the impossible… that in a moment when there is no hope, someone will be able to perform a miracle. “Powerful interests in politics, the military, show business, sports and so on have exploited this idea of heroism for their own purposes and interests exactly because they know how much influence it has over people’s minds. But are all the great heroes
of history really as heroic as they are usually considered, or do their actions have a dark, possibly horrific side, as well?”
“Western society’s patriarchal structure promotes aggressive behavior of all kinds, including regular military conflict and an economic and political cast system of patricians and plebeians. Our play questions the masculine model that promotes aggressive competition and the subjugation of foes, and contrasts it with the feminine values of creation, nature and birth.”
Through extensive research in ancient tragedy Katsarou found more of the connections she was looking for., one example being that Admetos accepts his wife’s death—who dies in his place—as a necessity, because he considers his existence more important than anything else. She feels that metaphorically this is how how the political system forces us to act: “some ‘others’ always have to be sacrificed for the good of our country, our economy, our prosperity. But then, hypocritically, we mourn about this disaster and loss—as Admetos did at the funeral of his dead wife—and we continue with our lives as before, because ‘the dead are nothing,’ as Alcestis says. And the “others” who get sacrificed are always the powerless, the oppressed.” Katsarou compares this to the situation of women in Athenian democracy in the fifth century.
“A woman can be many things, gives life, raises children, a lover, a caregiver, nurse etc. The term heroism mostly goes to the macho ideal of a man that fights for an utopia most of the times. What about women? Or is it taken for granted that women should hold the entire society on their shoulders, as the Titan, Atlas?” said singer/actor Alexandra Skendrou, “I agree with Ioanna Katsarou’s questions about what counts as heroism in our times: Where do women place in the modern, Western mythology of heroism? Do we even need to create new mythologies, and eventually a new concept of the world?”
Demetri Bonaros told the GN that he tried to preserve the musicality and heightened nature of the original texts in his translation of the ancient texts while giving a more contemporary tone where he felt it appropriate. Bonaros experienced the additional challenge of switching between his co-producer, translator and actor duties each of which requires different skills. “One moment I needed to access my analytical side, another to tap into the part in me where music and rhythm live, and the next to let go of other production preoccupations and wear my characters’ bodies, voices, thoughts and emotions.”
The nonprofit theater company Eclipses Group Theater New York (EGTNY) serves as a cultural bridge between Greece and the United States by promoting Greek arts.
Go to www.egtny.com