Hippolytos, a CurtainUp Los Angeles review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

Go ahead, exalt yourself, sell your story -- the vegetarian diet, the Orpheus gobbly-gook, that Bacchanalia business and spooky writings! --- Theseus to Hippolytos

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The Getty Villa, finally reopened after extensive reconstruction, has added a beautiful outdoor ampitheatre in which to present Greek classical drama. For its premiere, they wanted a rarely seen play and the choice fell on Hippolytos, Euripides' version of the Phaidra story.

Anne Carson's new translation blends anachronisms with formal dialogue. She focuses on keeping the classical rhythm of the play which emphasizes its roots. Sometimes jarring, the effect can be didactic although the harsh beat of the lines usually drives the play and some of the poetry is beautiful.

Called the most modern and bleakest of the Greek playwrights, Euripedes exposes passion in this classic triangle of Phaidra, wife of King Theseus, who is obsessed by passion for his virginal young son by the Amazon Hippolyta. Hippolytos takes after his mother in devoting himself to the hunt and chastity, emulating and worshipping its chaste goddess Artemis.

In Euripedes' play, Aphrodite, goddess of passion, is jealous of Artemis and takes revenge by inspiring Phaidra's passion which leads to Hippolytos' destruction. She hangs herself and leaves a note accusing Hippolytos of raping her. Poseidon, the sea god, represents the power of nature and thoughtless vengeance. When called upon by Theseus to destroy Hippolytos, he unleashes a mighty bull riding a wave.

To modern eyes, the goddesses and god could be seen as Jung's archetypes, representative of the drives that are basic to humanity. In the words of a television producer, "they dress up the show." Aphrodite (Sarah Ripard), here an up-front voluptuary, and Artemis (Blake Lindsley), slim and fierce as an arrow in woodland colors, rage for the human characters' souls. The effect lifts the tragedy above the limited arena of a sordid little domestic triangle and shines a respectful spotlight on the spiritual and emotional forces that shape human lives.

Theseus's misinformed and violent decision to sacrifice his son echoes in the wars of today. Hippolytos' rejection of women and his own sexuality resonates eerily with contemporary religious fundamentalism. Some conjecture that, by rejecting this important aspect of nature, Hippolytos brings disaster on himself.

Director Stephen Sachs makes excellent use of the Getty's outdoor amphitheatre space, keeping the focus on the mortals so the production is not over-balanced by the supernatural elements personified in the powerful goddess figures.

Tamica Washington-Miller's choreography is especially effective when the female chorus in red robes sweep across the stage and swirl like autumn leaves swept by the wind from a burning fire. The final choreography of the male chorus as Hippolytos' chariot which bears him to his death is stunningly done.

Linda Purl finds the vulnerability and stubborn nobility in the obsessed Phaidra. Her petite form seems constantly at war with itself. Fran Bennett gives a towering performance as her Nurse, embodying earthy humanity and what humor there is in the play. She is a hapless agent of destruction, as she tries to keep Phaidra from suicide by arranging a tryst with Hippolytos. He is bound by an oath of silence, another mechanism of the gods, and cannot defend himself when accused of Phaidra's death. Morlan Higgins as Theseus plays the passion in his prototypal role. Paul Moore finds the fierceness in the determinedly celibate Hippolytos.

Peter Maradudin's lighting design is especially effective in the open-air nighttime ampitheatre. Austin Switser has designed a shadowy video image of the bull from the sea with an appropriate hint of power and mystery. Although not easy for modern audiences to identify with, Hippolytos"is powerful as an exhibition of the timeless themes of Greek theatre, with its dissection of human passion and its arbitrary Goddess archetypes. Production values are excellent and the Getty Villa, whose exhibitions, shop and café are open to curtain time, is a lovely place to spend an evening.

Playwright: Euripides, translation by Anne Carson
Director: Stephen Sachs
Cast: Linda Purl (Phaidra), Paul Moore (Hippolytos), Fran Bennett (Nurse), Morlan Higgins (Theseus), Sarah Ripard (Aphrodite), Blake Lindsley (Artemis)
Set Design: Christopher Barreca
Lighting Design: Peter Maradudin
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Choreographer: Tamica Washington-Miller
Composer and Musical Director: David O
Video Artist: Austin Switser
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: September 7-23, 2006
Where: The Getty Villa, Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA, Reservations: (310) 440-7300.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on September 7.
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