play thirty eight: black medea

The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.
The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.

Author: Wesley Enoch

Published: 2007

Synopsis: “Black Medea is Wesley Enoch’s richly poetic adaptation of Euripides’ Medea. Blending the cultures of Ancient Greek and Indigenous storytelling, Enoch weaves a commentary on contemporary Aboriginal experience.” (Synopsis taken from here).

What moved me: The brilliance of this work is the deftness with which Enoch has insinuated the Medea narrative into the indigenous Australian landscape. Just as Medea helped Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, so here does Medea help her love gain mining access to the ancient land of which her community act as guardians.

I also loved the space Enoch creates for the theatre-makers to enter into this work, with significant chunks of text given in images instead of speech.

Also, the vastness of this image:

MEDEA: I had a dream. I dreamt I was staring into the desert and felt I would never be alone. In this dream my mother’s standing there smiling, her hair playing in the wind. She doesn’t say anything, she looks at me with a quiet smile. Beside her stands my grandmother. She looks just like my mother only she’s got more history in her face. Her hair’s tied back. This woman of law and language, standing ankle deep in the sand. Behind her another woman, looking at me, I can see my reflection in her eyes. She looks familiar. Her skin’s dark and weathered. Beside her another woman, and another and another, and then I can see an ocean of women stretching back out into the desert, stretching out to the horizon making the sand dark…standing facing me, looking to me.

play twenty eight: love me tender

love me tenderAuthor: Tom Holloway

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Father is a fire-fighter, the local hero, and his youngest daughter has just been born. His love for her is unlike any other kind of love – deep, long, protective – but as she heads towards adolescence he has to confront how our hyper-sexual culture is forcing young girls to grow up fast. All this in the midst of the gods’ wrath, who’ve stopped the wind and made the forests burn, forcing him to choose what sacrifice he is willing to live with.

What moved me: My familiarity with the Iphigenia myth upon which this work is based allowed me to see the full extent to which Holloway had allowed it to be infected by an Australian sensibility. Athena’s refusal to allow the wind to blow and so release the Greek fleet on its way to Troy is our craze-inducing heat in which we wait with baited breath for the first fire of the season to break. The fire-fighter is our Agamemnon, who we look to when we need to be saved (and who is an unimpeachable archetype of Australian masculinity).

I also loved the dilation of Holloway’s language. Every scene unravels as a layer of images slathered upon each other – we think it is one thing, but then it becomes another, and another, and another, until we almost stop trying to assume we understand what we are seeing and wait to be told.

play twenty: antigone in a version by bertolt brecht

'Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices' by Nikiforos Lytras, 1865
‘Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices’ by Nikiforos Lytras, 1865

Author: Sophocles/Bertolt Brecht

Translator: Judith Malina

Published: 441BCE/1948/1990

Synopsis: Polyneices, son of Oedipus and brother of Antigone and Ismene, is refused burial by their uncle King Creon for fighting his brother Eteocles in the Theban civil war. Antigone refuses to allow this transgression against divine law – the gods decree that all bodies must be buried – to occur and condemns herself by covering her brother in dust. Creon, headstrong with his own power, refuses her clemency and orders her to be walled up inside a mountain to die for her disobedience. Her fiancee, Creon’s youngest son Hamon, plees on her behalf to no avail. The city begins to dissent at the King’s treatment of Antigone and, as its barricades are threatened, Creon travels to the mountain to reverse his decision. His arrival is too late: Antigone has hung herself with a sheet and Hamon has fallen upon his own sword at her feet.

What moved me: if Antigone were stone, then her gentle sister Ismene is water. Unable to face the punishment she would receive for burying her brother, she declines Antigone’s plea for help. But there is a subtle strength in her, like a rich seam of metal, which seems more durable than her sister’s headstrong brittleness.

ANTIGONE

I won’t ask you again.

Follow someone who gives orders. And do

what you are ordered. But I

am following the custom and burying my brother.

And if I die for it? So what? I’ll rest in peace

among the peaceful. And I’ll have left

something holy behind me. I prefer

to make friends in the underworld,

for I will live there forever. As for you,

laugh at shame and live.

ISMENE

Antigone, bitterly

hard as it is to live in disgrace, still

even the salt tears stop. They don’t

flow from the eyes forever. The executioner’s ax

puts an end to life’s sweetness, but for the survivor

it opens the slow veins of pain. He can’t stop

screaming; yet even while screaming, he hears

the birds swooping above him

and sees through curtains of tears the familiar

elms and rooftops of home.

play sixteen: hecuba #2

My admiration for Anne Carson has no peak.
My admiration for Anne Carson has no peak.

Author: Euripides

Translator: Anne Carson

Published: c.424BC

Synopsis: A tragedy set before the Greek forces depart after the sacking of Troy. Trojan Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam, has been reduced to servitude. Her daughter Polyxena (a “shooting star that wipes itself across the play and disappears” [Carson, 2006]) is sacrificed by Odysseus and Agamemnon to appease the ghost of Achilles, who has immobilised their fleet. Hecuba’s grief is compounded when her son Polydorus is murdered by his guardian, King Polymester of Thrace, out of greed. Hecuba seeks her revenge with other Trojan women by blinding Polymester and killing his two sons.

[I have reread Hecuba because of the stark differences in translation, which should be accounted for in this project, and because of my undying love for Anne Carson. If you’ve never encountered her, get a taste here.]

What moved me: The layer of Anne that sits atop Euripides like the rainbow in a puddle of oil.

Example One

CHORUS: […]

And Odysseus is on his way here now,

any minute now,

to drag the young colt away from your breast,

away from your poor old hands.

Go to the temples,

go to the altars,

bend as a suppliant at the knees of Agamemnon.

Call on the gods of the sky

and the gods underground.

Surely prayers will spare your child!

Or you will have to watch

her

fall forward

at the tomb

and spray red blood

from a blackbright hole

as it opens her throat wide.

Example Two

HECUBA: […]

I supplicate you:

do not rip the child from my hands.

Do not kill her.

Enough death!

This one is my joy. This one is my forgetting of evils.

She comforts my soul –

she is my city, my walking stick, my way on the road.

play five: agamemnon

Le sacrifice d'Iphigénie, by François Perrier, 1633.
Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie, by François Perrier, 1633.

Author: Aeschylus

Translator: David Grene and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

Published: 458BC

Synopsis: The Chorus and Clytemnestra clamour for the return of her husband and king, Agamemnon, from his victory in the Trojan War. However, a pall is cast as his death at Clytemnestra’s hands is increasingly foreshadowed. It is prophesied by Cassandra (the Trojan princess taken by Agamemnon as his concubine) that his wife will visit her fury upon him for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia to Artemis, who had becalmed the winds and so forestalled the Greek ships from setting sail to Troy. She also foretells her own death and enters the palace welcoming its inevitability. Aegisthus, Clytemnestra’s lover, reveals himself as a co-conspirator and the Chorus warns of the return of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, to avenge his father’s death.

What moved me: the impotence of the Chorus of old men.

But we, dishonoured for the ancientness of our flesh,

were left behind then when the army went;

we remain, propping on staffs a strength like a child’s.

For the child’s marrow, too, leaps within his breast

but is only the match of an old man’s;

the god of war is not there either.

And the overold, the leafage already withering,

walks his three-footed way, no stronger than a child;

wanders, a dream in the daylight.