|Satomi Blair as Jocasta in "These Seven Sicknesses." Photo by and ©
Laura June Kirsch.
Copyright 2012 Philip W. Sandstrom
NEW YORK -- An exciting and deliciously satisfying five-hour evening
at the Flea Theater in which all the main characters die and the
audience gets scrumptiously fed summarizes Ed Sylvanus Iskandar's
production of the "These Seven Sicknesses," a condensation of the
seven plays that circumscribe the Grecian saga of the Atreus family: the Oedipus trilogy, Herakles's "Philoktetes," and
Ajax's tales, modernized with aplomb in Sean Graney's re-envisioning of the saga.
Performed in three acts by the Flea's resident ensemble the Bats and seen January 26, this play cycle provided the gist of the dramas in contemporary language and with oceans of blood and fine acting to
boot. In each play the story was stripped to its core, providing the essential kernel of meaning and featuring the key epiphany. Director
Iskandar and the Bats skillfully carried us through this
sad tale of revenge and loss triggered by hubris.
Using six nurses (Glenna Grant, Tiffany
Abercrombie, Eloise Eonnet, Marie Calre Roussel, Jenelle Chu, and
Olivia Stoker) and one orderly (Will Turner) as the chorus, scene
changers, and the actors playing characters of an interstitial nature, Iskander seamlessly carries the audience from one play to the
next. These nurses/orderly become so ubiquitous and so familiar that
we begin to know and love each of their characters. Their song-filled
interludes and singing commentaries within each play prove tremendously important in propelling the drama forward and defining
Act I -- "Honor Lost" kicked off with the Oedipus cycle at the point in which the hero (Jeff Ronan) is searching for the cause of
the sickness that has been consuming Thebes. He calls upon the blind seer
-- portrayed in all seven plays with stern resolution by Holly Chou -- who tells him that he is the cause of the town's
plague. By citing the Delphic curse upon Oedipus, that he will "Mate
with his own mother, and shed with his own hands the
blood of his own sire," the seer explains that the gods are displeased
and thus the town is suffering. His story is then confirmed by
Oedipus's wife/mother Jocasta, played with luscious sexuality by
Satomi Blair, after the Messenger, portrayed with innocent conviction by Tommy Crawford in all seven plays, relates how he found the infant Oedipus, abandoned by Jocasta, and adopted by
Polybus, king of Corinth and his queen, Merope.
This sad tale wraps up with Jocasta's suicide and Oedipus blinding
himself and being driven into exile by Creon, played with appropriate
cruelty by Stephen Stout. This part of the story has always seemed overwhelmingly histrionic to me, with unnecessary self-violence, nonetheless, this particular rendition proved more supportive of all characters and was delivered without an overly dramatic howl.
The saga continued with "In Trachis," the story of Herakles (a
crotchety Victor Joel Ortiz), which ends poorly
for him, followed by "In Colonus," in which Oedipus is finally allowed
to live out his days there and die, and "Antigone," whose heroine is portrayed with honest righteousness by Katherine
Folk-Sullivan, fighting with the same, now power-grabbing Creon
over the fate of her father's final resting place. Although the drama had just begun, the arch of action presented up to this point established a firm ground upon which more blood would be spilled.
Then came the intermission, with complimentary wine and some of the
yummiest pork dumplings I've ever tasted, served with a nutritious
eggplant/brown rice melange, all furnished by Macao Trading Co.
The first scene of ACT II -- "Honor Found," based on "Philoktetes," begins with the line "What good are our lives if there are no tales about us?" The hero of the title, played with sad veracity by Seth Moore, gets left on an island by the sly and lying Odysseus, accurately portrayed by Bobby Foley. Odysseus then returns to the island to filch Philoktetes's magic bow, attempting to maroon its owner behind on the island once again. But Odysseus's companion Neoptolemus (played with palpable innocence by Alex Herrald), admiring Philoktetes for his past bravery in battle, takes him and his magic bow back to Greece in a touching portrayal of warrior loyalty.
|Grant Harrison as Ajax (among the sheep) "These Seven Sicknesses." Photo by and ©Laura June Kirsch.
As for warriors, no Greek other than Achilles matched
Ajax's ferocity in battle. As the title character of the next scene, "Ajax," the ferocious Grant Harrison kills a flock of sheep and his own wife in a madman nightmare triggered by Agamemnon's granting the dead Achilles's armor to Odysseus instead of him. As the narrow stage was situated between two banks of audience seating, the slaying scene, a flurry of carnage, looked like a killing field choreographed as a repetitive occurrence where the dead sheep kept arising to be killed again, tragically ending with Ajax stabbing his wife, Tekmessa, empathetically portrayed by Allison Buck.
The blood was assuaged by the dessert break, with favor-bursting mini-cupcakes from Billy's Bakery served.
The concluding Act III -- "Honor Abandoned" began with Elektra, the
title character (played with matricidal bitchiness by Betsy Lippitt)
lustfully sharing with her brother Orestes in stabbing their mother, almost as a post-coital romp after an incestuous mating. It ended with Antigone suffering live entombment. Her act was immediately followed by the suicide of Haemon (the mournful Matt Barbot), her husband to be and son of Creon.
This was one of the most satisfying and complete theater works that I have experienced in years. The time flew as the stories logically layered upon each other.