Oedipus plays in African setting

Avery Brooks heads a cast of Afro-American actors from the renowned Shakespeare Theater of Washington in a single-evening adaptation of the Oedipus plays at this year’s Athens Festival. Their production of Sophocles’ trilogy – «Oedipus Rex,» «Antigone» and «Oedipus at Colonus» – in a new translation by Nicholas Rudall, makes its European debut at the Herod Atticus Theater on September 10 and 11, and is sure to be one of the festival’s highlights. The theme of redemption is what interests him in Sophocles’ tragedies, director Michael Kahn told the press in Athens last Thursday. «I am very interested in the redemption of Oedipus, in what happens at Colonus,» said Kahn, director of the Shakespeare Theater for 16 years and director of the drama division of the Julliard School. «In ‘Antigone’ you see what you have to do to keep a society together without becoming anarchistic, and what you have to give up,» said Kahn. «This is why the plays are endlessly reinterpretable, and why these questions are still the most interesting, unfortunately. I’m interested in the struggle between one’s private and one’s public morality. After all, I live in Washington,» he added wryly. The production is set in Africa and the costumes are inspired by a certain period in Africa and Egypt, around the 25th dynasty, marking a clear cultural difference between Thebes and Colonus. Kahn emphasizes that the plays are about an older society than the one in which they were written, saying, «I have the feeling that when everyone is well dressed, you don’t have the passion, the color, the violence of feeling that these works express; I feel the same way about Shakespeare in Elizabethan dress.» Kahn talked about the freedom he felt in directing ancient Greek drama: «We have no tradition of how ancient Greek tragedies ‘must’ be played, which is very healthy – just as you have no tradition of how Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller ‘must’ be played – and that’s very healthy for you, and for Tennessee Williams.» The Shakespeare Theater’s performances in Greece are presented under the auspices of US Ambassador to Greece Thomas Miller and sponsored by the American Community Schools of Athens (ACS). Proceeds from the performances will go toward construction of an arts and sport center on the ACS campus.

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