Only in Greece would you drive more than 2 hours through perilous Peloponnesian mountains to a perfectly preserved ancient amphitheater with pre-technology impeccable acoustics, joining nearly 15,000 fully engaged audience members of all ages. There we were last month held under the spell of both the theater, itself, filled nearly to capacity, suitable for a half-stadium soccer match, and its current ultra-contemporary Aristophanes’s comedy “The Frogs,” originally from 405 BC, and in this iteration, “FROGS,” indelibly topical.
For 2 plus hours without break, we sat, Spartan-like, unwavering, with frequent outbursts of laughter, approving applause and, by the end, collective clapping of true believers, on backless rock-hard stadium seating. All this under complete darkness, save the odd bat, cat and magical theatrical lighting as we witnessed this bawdy multi-layered and multi-dimensional remarkable revival.
Shockingly current political references gracefully and gleefully permeated the riotous take of this time-honored comedy. With live music by the performers themselves, this is a new, sometimes jarringly profane, edgy, vernacular and totally compelling translation that would have made Aristophanes proud, we think. It is about a God (Dionysus) and slave (played with enormous command by Lakis Lazopoulos) descending to Hades in search of a dramatic poet to save a city! I repeat for emphasis: A poet! As I say... only in Greece!
As directed by the wonderful Costas Filippoglou and designed by a world-class team, this jocular and inventive version is a freshly-minted mix of newer New Vaudeville, comedia del arte, gender-bending Torch Song Trilogyesque cabaret, and circus pageantry. With a dazzle of fancy footwork, the remarkable multi-casted chorus in true Greek Chorus tradition delivers with such velocity and finesse that would throw shade at even Cirque du Soleil, sustaining its rowdy, high-energy, wildly-imaginative, rollicking buoyancy throughout. The ensemble par excellence sprints and slithers up and down the pyramid stage with feverish joi de vivre all whilst playing live instruments, working their farcical mimicry, performing acrobatic high jinks and exuding mad exuberance in a detailed and exceptional pyrotechnic sparkler and firefly display.
The company leads are all exceptional and all is done with original songs, a spell-casting, serpent-hissing siren, upwards, downward descending and tangoing choreography, cacophonous frogs and the culminating spy/versus spy poetry slam by both Euripides and Aeschylus with the “old way,” ultimately taking home the prize. The final pass of soft shoe chorus line crescendo rounds out the night with pizzazzy exhaustion and loser innovator Euripides’s closing toss: (paraphrased) “Good luck to him. People don’t change. How then can we save Athens?”
All this creates a beguiling confection of raucously funky sound score and a night full of crackerjack performances of wit, astute social commentary and bewitching originality – all of which ultimately, and enthusiastically, won over even this seasoned seen-it-all contemporary theatergoer.
* Cathy H. Burroughs is an international theater and travel writer who contributed this review to Kathimerini English Edition. “The Frogs” is currently wrapping up its summer tour with a series of shows at selected municipal theaters around Athens and also at the Herod Atticus Theater (Dionysiou Areopagitou, Acropolis) on September 3. For details and tickets, visit www.viva.gr or call 11876.