November 2, 2006

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Access to the ancients
Odysseus in a modern detention center, emphasis on ritual in Oedipus Rex
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Oedipus Rex was “basically written as an act of worship to Apollo,” Robert Shea said. “There’s so much more to the play than the story.”

That’s what New Art Theatre in Manchester will try to convey to the audience about Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Nov. 15 and 17 at 7 p.m. For instance, there’s choral chanting and dancing, and “unless you connect it to religious ritual it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Shea, artistic director, said. In the story, king Oedipus fails to thwart the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother.

New Art Theatre formed in the early 1980s as the Living Classics Series at the Palace Theatre and is now based at the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College where Shea is director. New Art performs around New England for secondary and post-secondary schools.

Shea was attracted to this relatively new translation of the Greek by Stephen Berg, founder and editor of the American Poetry Review, and Diskin Clay, professor of classics at Johns Hopkins University, because it allows the characters to communicate with each other in a way that “kind of rings true” with a contemporary audience. “Plays are more than stories. They are works of art,” Shea said. This version brings out more of the symbolism, metaphor and artistry. In translations, “it’s hard to really kind of capture the poetic flavor,” Shea said. “Oftentimes ... even contemporary translations, they sound very stiff.”

The cast of five includes James Ryen, who had a lead in American Repertory Theater’s Romeo and Juliet last year and appeared in The Taming of the Shrew on the Boston Common. Kathleen Fomffich performs with Seacoast Repertory and Boston-based professional companies. Clare Callaghan, who is the one-woman chorus, has worked for New Art works with A.R.T. in Cambridge, Mass., and has worked with a laboratory theater group in Oxford, England. Lisa Richardson plays the blind prophet and acts in Boston and New York, but tries to perform with New Art each year. “She likes the innovative nature of our work,” Shea said. Working actors often have to take roles in “safe” productions, he said.

Blair Hundertmark of Portsmouth is appearing as Oedipus Rex. He’s also the artistic director for New Hampshire Theatre Project in Portsmouth and is directing and performing in The Odyssey for that company, Nov. 10 through Nov. 26 at the West End Studio Theatre, 959 Islington St., Portsmouth.

New Hampshire Theatre Project is using the 21st-century retelling of The Odyssey by David Farr. Hundertmark’s colleague saw it in London, where Farr directs the Lyric Hammersmith Stage, and recommended it as a good fit.

The Odyssey is “really about identity. Who are you? Are you defined by your home and your country...? What is home?” Hundertmark said. Farr’s version goes back and forth in time.

Hundertmark has read parts of the original translation of the epic Greek poem by Homer that recounts Odysseus’ ten-year trip home from the Trojan War. “That’s when you really realize how clever the playwright was in choosing pieces that highlight the journey and weaving into his own theme of identity and immigration,” he said about Farr. “It’s certainly not an overtly political piece but you don’t have to look too far under the surface to realize it’s timely,” he said.

An ensemble cast performs all roles. Sound designer Agnes Charlesworth wrote music with Greek, Turkish and Italian influences for the lyrics in the script. The group is going for a festival or circus atmosphere in the small black-box theater, although there are dark stories in The Odyssey. Farr’s telling of The Odyssey portrays the asylum-seekers as “joyful people” who are trying to move on although they resent the Greeks. Oedipus Rex, however, starts at the “brightest point” and “spirals into destruction.… There’s so little hope in that piece,” Hundertmark said.


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09/28/2006 Bringing people back to life
09/21/2006 Getting judged
09/14/2006 Long strange journey
09/07/2006 Curtain Calls
08/31/2006 Curtain Calls
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08/10/2006 All theater, all summer
08/03/2006 A Jesus musical, reworked
07/27/2006 A match made in Maine
07/20/2006 Variations on a theme
07/13/2006 I Hate Hamlet
07/06/2006 Serious theater
06/29/2006 L.A. in Peterborough
06/22/2006 Da Vinci to Rube Goldberg
06/15/2006 Peter Bridges remembered
06/08/2006 From Hairspray to monkeys
06/01/2006 Special Theatrics
05/25/2006 Live Brit-com
05/18/2006 Evil stepsisters earn the yuks
05/11/2006 A message to mom
05/04/2006 Meet the cast
04/27/2006 'I hope i get it'
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04/13/2006 Nashua rocks The Wiz
04/06/2006 Nashua rocks The Wiz
03/30/2006 Cabaret is Mnchester bound
03/23/2006 A 42nd Street detour
03/16/2006 Actor-director wants your ideas
02/23/2006 Yellow Taxi's Theater Festival opens March 1
02/16/2006 Herding CATS
02/09/2006 An actors' studio
02/02/2006 A thing about love
01/26/2006 Spring theater season warming up
01/19/2006 Gearing up for the big night
01/12/2006 This Phantom is not a menace
01/05/2006 Jim Kelly, sci-fi writer and alternate historian
10th anniversary at Capitol Center
10 Ways To Survive The Audition
A Chorus Line
A Figaro Worth Cheering
A 'Living Newspaper' on stage
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A Tribute To Music
Actorsingers Deliver On Superstar
Beauty and the Beast
Bedford Off-Broadway Gets Spooky
Being The Beatles, 1964 The Tribute
Bringing NYC to Wilton
Creating the venue from antiques
Crimes Of The Heart
Curtain to rise on Dana Center
Dana Center Takes Center Stage
Ensemble elevates Palace’s Godspell
From stage to the silver screen
Great play, too bad it’s over
Greater Tuna
Humble Boy
It’s cabaret, hear it sing, joke, tease
It's Child's Play
Jesus Christ Superstar
Kids Tackle Edgar Allan Poe
Local boy hits the big time, doesn’t lose his head
Lowell theater opens with a winner of a satire
Madco welcomes Boston actor-director
Meet John Sefel, Director
Meet Suzanne Delle, Yellow Taxi’s driver
Music Man to run three weekends
New Thalian Players
Palace announces 2005-06 season
Peterborough Players’ Solidarity is solid gold
Plaid
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Playing with man’s best friend
Proud of the Peacock
Racy, crazy blast at the Palace
Reviving His Passion
Robert Dionne, The man behind the Majestic
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Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know
Short-Attention Span Theater
Side Show
Sideshow slips sideways
Spending The Summer On Stage
Stages of learning
Steel Magnolias
Suessical: The Musical
Theater Of The Imagination
Theater Kids Without A School
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The Drawer Boy
The Festival
The Five best shows of 2005
The Prisoner Of Second Avenue
The Russian/American Kids Circus
The Senator Wore Pantyhose
The Tony Awards, they're grrrrreat
The Warmth Of The Cold
Three nights, three shows at the Palace
Tosca

Under the Caribbean with the little mermaid

Wake up to ‘night Mother