Sunday, June 04, 2006

Seneca's Oedipus by Akropolis Labs

Yesterday (June 3) I had the privilege to attend a performance by Akropolis Performance Labs in Seattle presenting a rendition of Oedipus by Seneca. I am greatly impressed by this theater group and find much very right with their artistic method which follows the precepts of Grotowski.

The foremost element of the act is the actor - the speaking, singing, moving and dancing body. Other elements of the stage are more marginal and only involved part of the time - cart full of shoes, a cane, two chairs. This method calls for unity of action which concerns itself with a single issue. It is served very well by the ancient material of Greek and Latin drama.

The actors deliver their lines while being involved in intense physical movement - not necessarily a dance but often an action that adds significance to the spoken word. For example, at one point Oedipus prays to the gods while grasping a hook in the ceiling with his cane and lifting himself up. In "Oedipus" actors also do certain portions of action in the nude - and it does add gravity to the grave material. Nudity is also given without strip-tease - ie without the superfluously distracting manipulation of fabrics on stage.

The actors also sing and play some string instruments - in this show they sing multi-part arrangements of Eastern European devotional music - with Latin lyrics. This is simple singing but truly it is another aspect of physicality on stage - filling the room with sound.

I'd like also to share a reflection about the significance of ancient literature to our times. It seems that the ancients were principally fearful of the chaos and pessimistic about the possibility of a future of their civilization. All seemed to be destined to be consumed by the gaping abyss of chaos possibly represented by the barbarians. The Oedipus story reflects this fear by showing the unknowable nature of the encroaching chaos, and the unknowability of the consequences of one's actions. And it adds the tremendous moral burden on those in power. I think humanity has learned something over the ages since antiquity and we no longer should fear chaos. I think we don't because in history we went through chaos, horror it was, but we came back. The main modern anxiety is about something else - the lack of meaning. That may propel us toward fanatical religiosity, while the fear of chaos pushed the ancients toward imperialism.