An “All Our Tragic” Production at the University of Chicago

Helen Anastaplo Newlin

This letter, of October 15, 2012, from Helen Anastaplo Newlin to her father, George Anastaplo, comments on the “All Our Tragic” production at the Logan Center for the Arts, The University of Chicago. This performance ran from 1 p.m., Saturday, October 13, 2012 to 1 a.m., Sunday, October 14, 2012. (She sat through all twelve hours of this performance; her father settled for the first three hours.)

The production was described in this fashion in a Logan Center Guide:

With “All Our Tragic” popular Chicago director Sean Graney has adapted all 32 surviving Greek tragedies of Aeschylus,- Sophocles and Euripides to create an epic 12-hour cycle-play theater event, in two parts: Politics and Ethics. “All Our Tragic” will have its University of Chicago premiere at the Logan Launch Festival, by both professional and student actors. This presentation is modeled after the Ancient Greeks’ communal festivals or gatherings, which encompassed music, theater, politics and eating.

You asked for my impressions of “All Our Tragic,” and you also asked which plays stood out, for good or ill.

Despite the names that Sean Graney gave to the twenty-four entries in his drama, there isn’t really a one-to-one correspondence with the ancient plays. Not only are some of the entries drawn from several plays–like Elektra–but some of the entries have events and characters that don’t appear in the original, like Philoctetes bringing all the children of Heracles to Athens. You know all this.

I can’t think right now of any changes that Sean Graney made that I really object to. As you remarked, the tone of much of the work is closer to a Satyr Play than to a Tragedy, but twelve hours of unrelieved tragedy would have been overwhelming, and I can’t imagine that anyone would want THAT much theater, whereas this developed its own madcap momentum that kept its audience waiting for the next twist. I think it IS one work, tied together by Philoctetes, prophecy, sacrifice and finally the theme of theater itself, which seems to substitute for the jury of Athenians at the end of Orestes’ story, which is also the end of the play.

Things that stand out: Teiresias,who weaves the first part together; the conversation between Antigone and Creon, which is not what I recall from the Antigone, but is nevertheless very persuasive; the character of Heracles’ daughter Makaria, who appears several times as a force for good; the story of Rhesus, which was so vivid that I had to remind myself, thinking back over it, that I hadn’t actually SEEN that part, but had only read it on screen and heard the actors reciting the parts; the fall of Troy and the sacrifice of Polyxena. In fact, there were a number of these passages that I thought I had seen and then realized that of course I hadn’t. That is pretty remarkable, considering that there were absolutely no production values.

Things that didn’t work out so well: Oedipus, because nothing can hold a candle to the original; Prometheus, which was too slight to make an impression; the story of Orestes, because nothing can replace Athena and the jury of Athenians and the Furies turning into the Eumenides.

This suggests to me that “All Our Tragic” is an intriguing romp, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying, through the stories of Thebes and Troy , pulling together many related strands of myth. But it is something apart from the really great tragedies like Oedipus and The Oresteia, and there is no point in trying to compare them.

___________________
Helen Anastaplo Newlin is a graduate of St. John’s College (Annapolis) and of the University of Chicago Law School. Her October 15, 2012 letter is posted here with her permission.

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