Going to see a Greek play is a scholarly adventure. While you are at PSU, you should take advantage of this opportunity to expand your collegiate experience. “Alcestis,” performed by the Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon in Lincoln Hall for two weeks, is not as entertaining as a video game or the latest DVD, but it’s not meant to be. Greek theater is, at its core, educational.
During the Panathenaea, a weeklong festival held in Athens, playwrights would perform plays based on hereditary mythologies and use them to critique the society they were living in. Envision a movie about Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, and freaky scientology babies raised in Hollywood, to be shallow on the inside and beautiful on the outside. A story that cuts against the grain of our societal norms, and challenges them, using characters common to everyone. This is what theater was to the ancient Greeks.
In order to understand how such a marvelous, interactive social commentary works, you need to see some Greek theater. It is challenging, and it takes some work, but if you’re in college you should see something that will educate you. You want to try new things and see new ways of learning. If you pass up this play for a kegger, you’re wasting your tuition and your opportunity.
Watching a play by this company is the way to do Greek theater. Priding themselves on reproducing plays as accurately as possible, the Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon does not make for a thrilling show. But it is easy to watch, mildly enjoyable, and is not as bad as some of the productions that passes for theater in this town.
Admetus is played solidly by Zero Feeney. His wife, Alcestis, played by Melissa Whitney, has agreed to die in his place so that he may live. He finds life unfulfilling without his wife and rages against his father for not dying for him, Hades for having to take someone, and the fates for putting him in the situation in the first place.
Andrew Hickman’s Heracles offers several attempts at comic relief, and this lightens the dour mood of the play. He manages to elevate the dialogue from line recitation to actual interaction.
The big question with any production of a Greek play is: What do they do with the chorus? This cumbersome, archaic storytelling device is always done differently because we don’t know how it actually was used, or even how many people it consisted of. A group of men would chant in unison, sing, dance, play one character or a mob, and we have absolutely nothing like it in modern performance.
The chorus in “Alcestis” really worked on the vocal aspect and instead of dull unison chants they used counterpoint harmonies – with good singing voices to add some variety. After the third epode, when the novelty of the convention had worn off, it became apparent that the chorus was only changing notes and not pursuing any attempts to have the melody say something as well as the words. This dragged the action of the play, and the entire cast suffered from crude physical acting. But the chorus did their job in keeping the audience informed of the action and the moral repercussions. They did so in a way that was not as entertaining as modern audiences demand, which is why attendance on a Saturday night was scant.
But, as I said, this is not a play for entertainment’s sake, it is educational; it is laudable that a production with such great educational merit is performed every year by this company. It is just too bad that they do not count entertainment as a higher virtue, along with education – a spoonful of sugar and all. If this education were more palatable, it would be tasted by many more.
“Alcestis” runs until October 16th in the Lincoln Concert Recital Hall at PSU.
Tickets available at the door or call 503-258-9313.
Ticket prices are $20 general, $15 senior and $10 student.