• $5.99

Publisher Description

If, as playwright and historian Charles Mee Jr. suggests, a Greek tragic structure is like a Rolls Royce, then what function does the chorus serve? Is it, as it was for Aeschylus, the engine that runs the machine? Or is it instead more like the rearview mirror: we occasionally check it out to see what is behind us, but it does nothing to help propel us forward. The song and dance of the choral mode was a marker of the best of civilization for Plato, modeled by the gods and used by the elite of Athens to educate, integrate, and propagate their cultural myths and mores. Helen Bacon claims that "Greek audiences would have experienced the choruses of Greek drama as a natural and necessary form of human interaction which they had witnessed and participated in since childhood, a social reality, rather than the artificial artistic convention they seem to us." (1) Nonetheless, contemporary adaptors and directors continually stage the chorus, sometimes by approximating some semblance of movement, song, and chant based on fragmentary knowledge of ancient Athenian staging, music, and dramaturgy; and other rimes making the choruses smaller or even into distinct characters, decidedly more contemporary and conversational than ancient and choral in the sense we imagine they were in the fifth century BCE. (2) In many ways, this insistence on using a chorus is ironic, as its effect in contemporary production is often probably the opposite that it likely had in the Athenian context: instead of enhancing an event "by giving it context and meaning in terms of traditional values so that it can be understood and become a permanent possession of the society," (3) it distances many contemporary spectators from the dramatic event by making it more difficult to comprehend and contextualize. Mee's play Orestes 2.0 contains his most radical refiguring of a chorus, divided among nurses and war victims, individuated but not "characters," as they serve as mouthpieces for different voices taken from popular and scholarly texts ranging from Soap Opera Digest to Elaine Scarry. (4) Mee sees his own theatrical project as a way to express the social nature of human existence. He purposefully problematizes the characters and narratives in his texts in order to emphasize that we are "social creatures--that we are the product not just of psychology, but also of history and culture, that we often express our histories and cultures in ways even we are not conscious of,-that the culture speaks through us, grabs us and throws us to the ground, cries out, silences us." (5) For Mee, all of the texts he uses to inspire his plays are "historical documents ... evidence of who and how we are and what we do." (6) Mee discusses the social basis of the theater and the cultural aspects of originality in his own theatrical texts in ways that make him think of his own project as similar to that of the Greek tragedians. In his Orestes 2.0, Mee does very little to change the structure of Euripides' play. In fact, the episodes with the main characters are in many cases almost identical in both form and content to Euripides' play. Ina Jamesonian-like pastiche, Mee expresses a critique of a structure and a culture while also speaking in the "dead language" of that very structure. The most significant changes take place in Mee's remakings of the public aspects of the work: the choral interludes and the trial scene.

Arts & Entertainment
June 22
Comparative Drama
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

More Books by Comparative Drama