I was about four lines into Anne Washburn’s wonderful translation/adaptation of Orestes before I knew I wanted to direct it. There was something in the tone, the energy, and the smart irony of the language that I found compelling and challenging in all the right ways.
Greek drama has always intrigued me. I love how fresh and immediate the relationship is between the people in the plays and the powerful forces at work all around them. Men and Gods interact and intertwine, and huge issues of fate, family, friendship, personal responsibility, and social and political policy are explored in ways I find emotionally and intellectually provocative.
It is a world far removed from our own, and yet it all seems shockingly familiar. When Euripides tells us that a certain politician speaks not so much because he has something to say, but rather “to be known to have spoken,” it is all too recognizable. It is a cliché to say how modern or relevant a great classic is, but it is wonderful how modern this play still feels. Much of this is due to Ms. Washburn’s excellent work, but at the core it is due to the great genius of Euripides.
I’m thrilled to be grappling with how to make a story like this live on stage today. These plays are astonishingly difficult. If building bridges between our world and Shakespeare’s Elizabethan England can be daunting, going back another 2,000 years makes Shakespeare seem almost contemporary. The challenges (and opportunities) these plays offer are extraordinary.
How does the world look? Sound? Feel? Operate? What kind of music makes sense? Clothes? Energy? How does a Greek Chorus actually, actually work? How do actors deal with the huge movements of soul and emotion that these plays require when “realistic” acting is now our norm? It is all wonderfully complex and, we feel, utterly worth exploring.
It all comes down to this. The Greeks are our ancestors, our predecessors. What they began in art, philosophy, politics, and religion is still deeply woven into our culture, and, in fact, a huge number of cultures worldwide. The questions they raised at theatre festivals 2,400 years ago and half a world away are still vital and provocative. Everything we can learn by actively grappling with the way their world and ours intersect and reflect each other is another small step we can take towards a wider and richer understanding of ourselves and our particular universe.
Finally, I’d like to thank the exceptional group that has come together to grapple along with me. This team is smart, insightful, and wonderfully game. I’m deeply grateful to them, and to the Folger and Two River Theater Company for making all of this a reality. Thanks for joining us.