Americans to bring Greek tragedy home in Sept. 11 theme

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2003

ATHENS, Greece Under the Acropolis, a company of Amer-ican actors will perform a version of the Oedipus myth in a trip to the play's homeland that was conceived in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Washington, D.C.-based Shakespeare Theatre's open-air performances Wednesday and today, the second anniversary of the attacks, are keenly awaited in Athens.

But Sophocles' epic on Greece's original dysfunctional family returns with a few surprises. The story, told in English, has moved from Thebes to an invented ancient world in Africa.

''I think we have achieved a very clear and powerful story, and I don't really doubt that we'll be able to communicate that,'' Avery Brooks said in an interview from New York City, where he was rehearsing his role as the gold-cloaked Oedipus. Brooks, who played Capt. Benjamin Sisko on TV's ''Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,'' starred in ''Paul Rob-eson,'' a one-man show about the famous actor and singer, that played Broadway's Golden Theatre in 1988.

Earle Hyman, best known for playing Cliff's father on ''The Cosby Show'' in the 1980s, is Teiresias, the blind prophet who counsels King Oedipus.

The 76-year-old Hyman has extensive classical credits in a career that has spanned more than 50 years.

He has appeared in just about every major Shakespeare play, ranging from ''Othello'' to ''Hamlet'' to ''Julius Caesar'' to ''The Merchant of Venice,'' at such venues as the Public Theater in New York, the Old Globe in San Diego and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn.

''We're tremendously excited about coming ... a little nervous, but thrilled,'' said the theater's director, Michael Kahn. ''We're honored to be asked to be performing a national treasure play.''

The African setting, he said, isn't as strange as it may sound.

''There's something for me about the use of music, the use of storytelling, the connection in Africa to the gods, to spirits, to the earth, to ritual that were very present for me, that I wanted to draw on,'' he said.

Kahn's production, influenced in part by dance and art studied on a trip to Zimbabwe, combines the ancient trilogy of incest, power and murder into a three-hour performance.

Greeks, not sure what to expect, are eager to see the result.

''When foreign actors produce ancient tragedies, they usually have surprises in store,'' theater critic Elena Hadjiioannou wrote in the Athens daily Ta Nea. ''Even if the play contains arbitrary elements, when they are inspired, they attract our attention.''

The idea to export the American production started when the Greek ambassador to Washington saw the play just after the Sept. 11 attacks.

''We played this play during Sept. 11 in Washington and it meant a great deal to our audiences there. ... For us it's a very personal thing,'' Kahn said.

Last summer, Kahn visited Athens' 1,800-year-old Herod Atticus theater a stone amphitheater that seats 5,000 so that the staging could be adapted from the Washington auditorium that holds just 450 people.

Dancers were added, and props and costumers were altered to match the stone backdrop. But most of the material was left unchanged from the original 2001-2002 run, dominated by Brooks' strong performance.

The three plays deal with Oedipus' search for truth, starting with ''Oedipus Rex,'' continuing three decades later with ''Oedipus at Colonus'' and then ending with the tragic effects on his children in ''Antigone.''

''To do this trilogy in a single night is a daunting task,'' said Brooks, 55. ''It's absolutely thrilling. I accept the challenge.''

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