With Greece going through a bit of a rough patch, now seems as good a time as any to remember the days before it all went a bit pear-shaped. And what better way to do that than through the time-honored tradition of theater. Next Monday, Classic Stage Company will put the awe back in austerity as its “Greek Festival” plunges into a month of celebrated dramatic productions, workshops, readings and seminars. Speaking of plunging, the fifth annual “Between the Seas” festival is also going down in September (8th to 13th), bringing contemporary Mediterranean dance and theater to The Wild Project.
True to its 45-year run of reviving classics that still ring true today, the CSC has chosen as this season’s centerpiece the playwright Euripides’ last work, “Iphigenia in Aulis” ($40), which tells the tale of King Agamemnon and his fleet of a thousand ships, stranded on an island thanks to the wrath of the goddess Artemis. When Agememnon is instructed to sacrifice his eldest daughter, dramatic irony ensues. Basically, substitute Artemis for the EU and Iphigenia for the Euro and you’ve got yourself a timeless cautionary tale.
Interpretative leaps aside, “Iphegnia in Aulis” is precisely what “Greek Festival” seeks to offer: ancient narratives brought back to life in order to fit a modern audience’s sensibilities. In this instance done through a “transadapation” text written by Anne Washburn, directed by Obie award winner Rachel Chavkin, and featuring original music performed by indie Americana band/couple The Bengsons.
For a further tale of woe, be sure to catch “Oresteia” ($30), an “inexorable exploration of human nature” told through what CSC’s artistic director Brian Kulick says is an almost wordless “radical look” at the tale of the fall of the house of Hadrias. Or, if a near silent 90-minute piece of movement theater isn’t interpretive enough, “The Fragments” ($30) is sure to do the trick. This performance is staged as a series of readings of adapted fragments of Greek tragedies, “sometimes just a page, sometimes four sentences.” The full-length performances will take place over the course of three consecutive Mondays, beginning with playwright Mac Wellman next week, and continuing on with Charles Mee and Ellen McLaughlin.
“The Mediterranean is such a hot region in the world right now,” said Aktina Stathkati, founder of “Between the Seas” festival, now in its fifth year. “A lot of concepts are being debated — like democracy, sovereignty, or even inter-cultural relations. So to have a familiarity with what’s happening there and how things are being debated is important.”
In continuing to help bridge this cultural “familiarity” through the arts, this year’s “Between the Seas” will present “theater from Catalonia and Lebanon, flamenco performances, contemporary dance from Italy and a multidisciplinary performance of live sand-art drawing, puppetry and music from Catalonia.”
And yes, in keeping with this double-header preview’s conceit, there will also be a reading of a contemporary play from Greece titled “Privatopia” (free). In this absurdist play written by M. Eustathiades in 2013, a gated community lives in fear of those from the outside trying to enter their private utopia (get it?), in the process bringing it all home to the universal issue of immigrant policy.
“Between the Seas” and “Greek Festival,” in their own way present artistic interpretations and expressions that subvert cultural tropes and assumption, helping to better frame the way we see the world – specifically as it pertains to the Mediterranean – today.
“There have been so many stereotypes of late about the region and it’s people,” said Stathkati, who sends out an open call each year for artists from the Mediterranean to participate in “Between the Seas.” “I know of so much talent, hard work and interesting art happening in the entire region so I think it’s important to do away with those stereotypes and actually meet the artists and see what they’re creating.”
“Greek Festival” takes place Monday, August 10 – September 26. Performances are at the Classic Stage Company theatre (136 East 13th Street).
“Between the Seas” takes place Tuesday, September 8 – 13. The performance schedule varies (see individual show details here.) Performances are at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd street between Avenues A and B).