Sophocles sells? Who knew?
As I scribble down these words Firehouse is getting ready to close its sold-out run of OEDIPUS REX, a show that had its world premiere sometime around 429 BCE. Give or take a few years, that means we helped celebrate the play’s 2439 birthday.
That’s a lot of candles on the cake, especially for a company that prides itself on producing new work!
What’s somewhat exciting for me is the fact that so many people came to see the production – which by the way was an outstanding effort by director Vinnie Gonzales and his amazing cast and designers. Way back in my undergrad years, shortly after we invented fire and the wheel, it seemed as if the only people who got excited by the early classics were my fellow theatre nerds.
You remember them, wearing all black and breaking into choreographed show tunes in the middle of the street? No? Just me? Okay, moving on…
Sure, there were always productions of Shakespeare’s works scattered along the way. Many of them were less than memorable if we’re honest, but there were always a few that sparked great emotion. Those tended to be some of the comedies, or Henrys, or HAMLET, LEAR, and that Scottish play whose title must not be spoken inside a theatre.
But where were Shakespeare’s contemporaries? Once in a blue moon we might get a production of Marlowe’s DR. FAUSTUS, but for the most part we never saw other classics by very good playwrights who don’t have the same name recognition. For as many years as I’ve been involved in theatre (and don’t you mind how many that is – it’s a lot!), I have seen very few of the plays from Greece’s Golden Age staged.
Sure, we read them in class, but few ever have the nerve to stage them. When I heard about Firehouse putting together a production of OEDIPUS I was intrigued to see how they would approach the play. Gonzales staged it against the backdrop of an African-American church but stayed faithful to the original text. There was some tinkering with the script, but it didn’t seem forced, at least to me.
While I was busy patting Gonzales and Company on the back for a job well done I got to thinking about some of the other companies around town and looking for classics they might have recently
performed or were about to perform.
For instance, Swift Creek Mill Playhouse is currently running a production of Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC. While I haven’t seen that production yet I’ve heard from many of my colleagues within the Critic’s Circle that it is very good, and I plan on making the trip to see it.
Quill Theatre has a version of Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE opening in a couple of weeks, as well as their two Shakespeare productions scheduled for this summer at Agecroft Hall. And you can’t forget their wild takes on the Bard with their annual Bootleg Shakespeare productions. Nor can we forget their recent outstanding presentation of LYSISTRATA, one of the all-time classics, and for many people the gateway into Greek Theatre.
By the way, this summer Quill will treat us to two
of my favorite plays -- THE TEMPEST and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. We should be getting more information about these productions soon.
Even TheatreLAB, those young whippersnappers, have presented work like Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE and Brecht’s MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN lately. Many of the shows that I’ve attended were populated by enthusiastic, and large, audiences.
To bring it back around to Firehouse, we’ve recently presented Sartre’s NO EXIT, Jarry’s UBU 84, O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, Moliere’s INVALID, the current Sophocles, and coming up soon is Chekhov’s THE THREE SISTERS. Okay UBU 84 was a very cool mix tape of two classics and DESIRE cut the script to accommodate a smaller cast and a tighter running time, but both pieces still retained the power and intent of their originals.
Does this signal a shift of all theatres swinging back to pick up works that have been neglected? Doubtful. To my eyes, it looks as if theatres are embracing great stories and showing that those stories will resonate no matter how many years -- or centuries -- they’ve been around. If it’s new to our eyes, it’s a new play.
Now, let’s settle down, the lights are going off, turn off your cell phone, settle back to enjoy the show. It’s always great to see you at the theatre.