The Epic Cycle and an Ancient sculpture: The Origins of Theatre, Tantalus and Laocoon
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In the 2500 years since the advent of "Greek Tragedy," the thirty-eight plays that comprise the relatively small extant corpus have had immeasurable influence. From them has evolved all of Western Theatre--a daunting body of work. In addition to all of the plays that credit Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides as major influences, the plays themselves continue to be produced in their original forms, and re-invented on the stage and screen, through many languages and styles. The stories have even been rewritten and their forms metamorphosed, and the results have been landmark and unremarkable by turns. The works continue to be successful when done "properly." By this I mean that the integrity of the language remains intact and the stories are well illustrated through acting and direction. The plays endure for many reasons, of which the principle is that they are based on myths. A myth by definition remains a myth because it is in part very true. Its themes continue to be relevant to all people, all eras. Greek Tragedy examines the human condition and character faced with the most extreme circumstances. The other main reason the plays continue to flourish throughout the world is because audiences crave something substantive, great and imaginative stories that transcend heaven and earth, magic and reality to explore ephemeral ideas. The Greek Tragedies can be reinvented on the stage for the modem eye and ear where their most perennial themes should be evoked, and new ones superimposed on the old. The latter tactic is especially advantageous when a new work is born in the vein of Greek Tragedy. It is this last subject that I've explored in two major roles for this paper. The first role was as a spectator for the ten-hour play cycle Tantalus, written by John Barton and under the direction of Sir Peter Hall performed at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts last November. The second role has been that of the playwright where since November of 1999 Gust a year before seeing "Tantalus") I've been writing a play based on the sculpture from antiquity called "Laocoon." My role as author will evolve into that of director and designer this spring. Both Tantalus and Laocoon, the former the length of The Iliad and the latter a one-act, respectively cite the work of the three major Greek Tragedians, Homer's epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey. They are similar in that they are contemporary and personal visions of what their authors see in Greek Tragedy, the modern world around them, and in their own lives today. Two stories are told with one foot in the style and tone of Greek Tragedy, and the ideology of the world today. Both try to reach their audience's humanity within a stylized form and poetic language, to touch their hearts with the story, and to provoke them to examine their lives. Where they differ (other than in scale, scope, and influence) is that Tantalus re-interpreted new characters, but did not invent any new ones, whereas for Laocoon I created a heroine that has no basis in Greek History and a hero whose name is real, but story is not. Tantalus is partly comedic and at times employs a thoroughly modern patois. Laocoon does not shift between moments of comedy and tragedy, nor poetry and informal language. Lastly, Tantalus is dialogue intensive, whereas Laocoon is more traditionally Greek written as numerous monologues, interrupted by brief dialogical scenes.