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A CurtainUp Review
The Phoenician Women
by Macey Levin

All in one day, the gods have heaped our house in tragedy .
---Antigone as she mourns the deaths of her brothers and mother
The tragedy of Oedipus and the ancient city of Thebes is again brought to the stage in David Travis's adaptation of Euripides' virulent anti-war play The Phoenician Women. Sophocles' trilogy encompassing Oedipus Rex, The Seven Against Thebes and Antigone is more familiar, but the same characters and events are referred to in this version.

There are disparities in the scripts. In Sophocles, Oedipus gouges out his eyes upon discovering the body of Jokasta and banishes himself from Thebes after realizing he has fulfilled the curse; here, Jokasta tends to her blind son/husband, and Creon, the new ruler, sends Oedipus out of the city hoping to rid Thebes of the stigma of the tragic family. The differences, though notable, are minor in that the Greeks wrote and rewrote their myths and legends to compete in the Dionysian Festivals.

The play focuses on the results of Eteokles' decision to renege on the agreement to give rule of the city to his brother Polyneikes after a year of enjoying a king's power. Polyneikes, having gathered seven armies to besiege the city, and Eteokles meet to hear the ineffectual appeals of their mother. After hundreds of soldiers have been killed in battle the brothers meet face-to-face and slay each other. Jokasta commits suicide over the bodies of her sons while her daughter Antigone and blind Oedipus mourn the destruction and the grievous history of their family.

Travis, who also directed the production, has updated the dialogue which retains the power of the classic language and utilizes modern costuming -- i.e. combat fatigues, jeans, suits and ties, along with various props including nine television sets that are subtly employed though they occasionally detract from the live actors. The chorus of Phoenician women, who are journeying to serve the oracle Apollo at Delphi, sing melodies based on Arabic songs and perform traditional Semitic folk dances to evoke the modern-day Middle East.

Since he has adapted the script, Travis should have altered the first fifteen minutes which contain two lengthy expository monologues and a dramatically irrelevant scene between Antigone and her tutor. The work comes alive with the entrance of Eteokles, played by Michael Aronov. Dressed in casual clothing with a gold chain around his neck, he flings his authority at his mother and brother, bellowing his disdain for the requests to relinquish the throne. Aronov struts with arrogance and malice in a chilling performance.

Keith Davis's Polyneikes is forced and superficial, belying the strength of his arguments. Sybil Lines establishes Jokasta's royal mien, but she delivers her dialogue as if delivering pronouncements rather than interacting with others until the bloody events of the day overwhelm her.

Two other performances also grow stronger as the work progresses. Aysan Celik's Antigone grows from a little girl into a tortured woman as she grieves over the bodies of her loved ones. The change in bearing and delivery of lines is striking. Likewise, Robert Kya-Hill becomes stronger and more assertive as his Creon realizes Thebes must become his burden; there are moments, however, when his phrasing is awkward.

Curt Hostetter plays the blind Tiresius and Oedipus. The former character is magnetic as he prophesizes the events that are about to befall the city. His Oedipus is something of a whiner which does not gain the audience's sympathy or empathy.

The chorus is a smooth balance of voices, though not consistently in unison, occupying the stage unobtrusively while intoning observations and enunciating the moral standards against which the proceedings transpire.

The direction by Travis is taut allowing the dialogue and events to create a palpable atmosphere of impending doom. His staging is simple and economical emphasizing the words and eschewing melodramatic histrionics. The set designed by Adrian W. Jones and lighting by Thomas Dunn complement Travis's work. Edmund Mooney's original music also contributes to the tension of the production.

It is painful to note the familiarity of the battles of will and ideologies that existed 2500 years ago still exist today. The more things change. . . 

Written by Euripides
Adapted and Directed by David Travis
Cast: Michael Aronov, Anitra Brooks, Aysan Celik, Bronwen Coleman, Keith Davis, Will Davis, Elisha Hipolito, Curt Hostetter, Robert Kya-Hill, Sybil Lines, Margaret Norwood, Kittson O'Neill, Seema Sueko, Chris Thorn, Justine Williams
Set: Adrian W. Jones
Lights: Thomas Dunn ,
Costumes: Melissa Schlachtmeyer
Video Design: Thomas Dunn and Hannah Yampolsky
Original Music and Sound Design: Edmund Mooney
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (no intermission)
The Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street (between Broome and Spring Streets)
Previews: 11/7-8; opens: 11/9; closes 12/1
Wed-Sat at 8pm; Mon. at 7pm; Sun at 3pm -- $19, t 212-206-1515 or
Reviewed by Macey Levin at 11/13 performance
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