Thursday, January 15, 2009

2009.01.18

Pavlína N. Sípová and Alena Sarkissian (eds.), Staging of Classical Drama Around 2000. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007. Pp. 227. ISBN 13: 9781847183187. £34.99.
Reviewed by Timothy Dugan, St Francis College, NY (tdugan@stfranciscollege.edu)

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Staging of Classical Drama Around 2000 is the published findings of a 2005 symposium on classical drama hosted by the Institute of Philosophy-Institute for Classical Studies, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. The symposium was a call to scholars of classical reception and performance anthropology to convene in Prague for the estimable purpose of identifying and sharing, "contemporary trends in staging of ancient drama and different approaches to the theme in different countries" (xi). To that end, presenters and respondents from a panoply of regions (Great Britain, Scandinavia, Eastern and Central Europe, Japan, Oceania) gathered field research and data on myriad aspects of classical adaptation and production; the sum-total of this gathering is sixteen provocative chapters on classical performance deriving from a specifically ethnic, native or regional point of view.

Let me begin with my one reservation, which concerns translation and suggests the press, "aiming to promote knowledge and learning through the production and distribution of valuable academic works" (from the press website), has a problem to consider. A passage from "Chapter Eight: Different Answers to the Same Questions: Staging Oresteia In Greek On The Turn Of A Century" is indicative of the problem: "In Agamemnon, Kassandra's omen is written in red letters on a black wall and in vice-versa as a sign of death, while ancient frictoria is presented with the help of common lighters and with the announcement of the ancient sites followed by their nowadays adaptation in modern Greek (133)." That account is contained in an essay that in spite of its rocky translation offers valuable insight into the reclamation of Greece's national classical ethos: "The story that leads to Lignadis' Oresteia actually goes back to a century ago to the very first Oresteia of the National Theatre of Greece (then called Royal Greek Theatre), in November of 1903. This was meant to be the first Ancient Greek production of the Royal Theatre ever; and unfortunately, it was also meant to be the very first theatrical scandal ever made, regarding productions of Ancient Drama in modern Greece." This reservation aside, the prodigious output of the Prague summit, Staging of Classical Drama Around 2000 has much to offer.

Although the Preface is thin, the Introduction by theater historian and reception scholar Lorne Hardwick is expansive and salutary, and provides an overview of themes specific to the sixteen essays and denotes the synergy and vitality of the "Around 2000" conferees: "Each of the essays has a specialized contribution to make. However, the total impact of the whole section will be even greater than the sum of its parts because the authors not only intersect in their discussions of common concerns in modern performance of Greek drama but also provide case studies that will add to the knowledge base and critical acumen of everyone working in the field" (7). Although this multifarious collection would be challenging for undergraduates, reception scholars and M.F.A. candidates in performance will need this book. I would specifically cite Akiko Tomatsuri's, "The Use of Silence in Tadashi Suzuki's Electra ," and Angeliki Zachou's, "The Use of Music in Greek Performances of Ancient Greek Drama in the 20th Century" as critical resources in the application of music, sound, and silence in classical renewal. I would also cite Paul Monaghan's, "Greek Tragedy in Australia: 1984-2005 ," and Hesham Hassan's, "The Influences of Ancient Greek Drama on Modern Egyptian Theatre" as exemplary histories on the development of classical dramatic art in "settlement" and "invaded" settings (38, 102). The supposition of author Hassan that Napoleon transported combat infantry and classically trained actors to the Saharan continent to occupy and (collaterally) acculturate the Egyptians is intriguing: "The Arab world got acquainted with theatre when Napoleon invaded Egypt (1798-1810), as some actors came along with his [sic] soldiery to entertain the soldiers" (102).

In addition, I would cite Andreja Inkret's essay, "Protagonist and Protagonistes: Doubling in Modern and Ancient Theatre" (Chapter 10), as essential reading for theater artists committed to serious experimentation with the classical milieu. In her argumentative essay, Inkret identifies the 2005 Slovak National Theater production of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus as case study in the efficacy of non-traditional, cross-gender, and double casting (the reassigning or "doubling up" of the major roles in a play). According to Inkret, for both the ancient and modern audience, the convention of "doubling" -- a form of adaptation in its own right -- is a "plausible effect" that pushes performers and audience to their limits: "an actor has to cast a spell upon a spectator every time he comes on stage representing a different character" (149). To bolster her observations on the history and process of "doubling" Inkret defers to the ancients: "Was the Greek stage convention of three speaking actors a restriction imposed on playwrights or "an ultimate state of perfection ," as Diogenes Laertius implied in the first half of the third century AD, or perhaps both?" (156).

Chapter One, "Tragedy Metatheatre and the Question of Representation ," by Eleutheria Ioannidou, will be of particular interest to theater practitioners. In a short segment entitled "Reconciliation with the Tragic Text in The Island, by [Athol] Fugard ," Ioannidou touts Fugard's blistering anti-apartheid prisoner-play as, "the personification of a lifer's state," and an existential model of "repetition," "imposed task[s] (rehearsal)," and "forced labours" (24, 25). For Ioannidou the 19th and 20th century models of classical reinvention (Hofmannsthal, Anouilh, Giraudoux) have been eclipsed by the "rewriting" and "refiguration[s]" of Fugard, Dario Fo, Franca Rame, Andreas Staikos ("the modern Greek playwright"); and (unexpectedly) "Ireland's leading dramatist, Brian Friel" (12). Perhaps a return to the ancients by such a disparate group of authors is the aftershock of apartheid, internment, the colonels, and imbedded Mafioso corruption in their respective homelands, but as author Ionnidou notes, "the classics are central to their literary historical past" (12 n17).

Three of the sixteen essays in Staging of Classical Drama Around 2000 provide disquieting black and white photographs (e.g., tableaux in psychiatric ward, a prisoner-of-war camp, a murky tavern) of recent classical productions. These include Divadlo U Stolu's (Theater at the Table),King Oedipus (Fig. 13-1,2,3); Valmet Theater's, Electra, (Fig 14,1-5); Oedipus Tyrannus at the Slovak National Theater,(15-1); and Divadlo's, Trojan Women(Fig. 15-2). All of the photographs are representative of the prevailing experimental logic of the Prague conference call to mind the lean auteur productions of Joe Chaikin, Richard Schechner, Julian Beck and Judith Malina (to name a few).

The 16th and capstone essay in this collection, "The Open University Reception of Classical texts: Research Project Data Base," by Prof. Lorne Harwick, expounds on the "integration" of scholarly databases with the standards and practices of worldwide electronic technologies. As Prof. Hardwick notes, this "integration" is central to the credibility and sustainability of reception studies: "The data base and other material had to be prepared to the standards required by the Arts and Humanities Data Service in the UK in order to ensure its continued public availability after the completion of the work of the project" (213). The premium of this essay is Hardwick's announcement of the launching of an electronic journal of reception studies: "Because international use of the data base and critical essays has been so extensive, the website has been expanded to include a refereed electronic journal for new researchers New Voices in Classical Reception Research and a section for publication by practitioners is also being developed (214)." Staging of Classical Drama Around 2000 is devoted to the posterity of reception studies. In her contribution to this collection Hardwick talks of "cultural historians fifty years hence" and of cultural memory being "irretrievably lost (213)." These are essential observations from the de facto leader of a very accomplished classical think tank; and, setting aside the presentation problems in this book, Staging of Classical Drama Around 2000 is a remarkable document.

Contributors:

Pavlína Sípová and Alena Sarkissian: Preface

Lorna Hardwick: Introduction

Eleutheria Ioannidou: Tragedy, Metatheatre and the Question of Representation

Paul Monaghan: Greek Tragedy in Australia: 1984-2005

Linnea Stara: Performing the Raging Other. Medea and the Refugee Woman in Finland, 1999

Akiko Tomatsuri: The Use of Silence in Tadashi Suzuki'sElectra

Conor Hanratty: What Ninagawa Did Next: Notes on Productions Following the End of Medea in 1999

Hesham M. Hassan: The Influences of Ancient Greek Drama on Modern Egyptian Theatre

Dikmen Gürün: Sophocles Interpretations in Turkish Theatre

Gregory Ioannides: Different Answers to the same questions: Staging Orestia in Greek on the Turn of a Century

Angeliki Zachou: The Use of music in Greek Performances of Ancient Drama in the 20th Century

Andreja Inkret: Protagonist and Protagonistes: Doubling in Modern and Ancient Theatre

Daniela Cadková: Contemporary Czech Adaptations of Classical Drama

David Drozd: The Detritus of Antigone by Roman Sikora

Paval Klein: Antiquity, or Symbolism? King Oedipus in Symbolic Attire

Alena Sarkissian: Translating Greek Drama: Three Czech Electras

Dása Ciripová: Staging of Classical Drama around 2000: Ancient Greek Drama on Slovak Theatre Stages

Lorna Hardwick: The Open University Reception of Classical Texts Research Project Data Base

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