CHICAGO'S fifth International Theatre Festival, which continues
through June 19, offers theatergoers a grabbag of drama, ranging
from Mexican existentialism to Canadian surrealism to British
playwright Alan Ayckbourn's newest comedy, "Communicating Doors."
One of the festival's most striking performances, however, was
an experimental Greek company's rendering of the classic
5th-century BC Greek tragedy, "The Persians," by Aeschylus. (The
production, which ended June 5, was performed in repertory with a
modern Greek play "Kanon.")
The Attis Theatre of Athens brought both plays to Chicago, and
its cast was exceptional for the skill with which it enlivened the
ancient drama. Although an intensely physical, modern performance,
the essence of Aeschylus was still preserved.
"The theater is static, but we are not static. We start from
the basic principles of the work and make it new," director
Theodoros Terzopoulos said in an interview backstage.
In a bold fusion of old and new, the actors stood on low
platforms and wore simple flowing black robes reminiscent of the
costumes of ancient Athens. But the actors also used jarring,
modern props such as black-and-white photographs of Bosnian war
They spoke both modern and ancient Greek to fully exploit the
languages' rich variety of sounds. They blended classical dialogue
with eerie wails, groans, and shuddering movements. At times,
however, the gestures seemed overwrought and distracted the viewer
from the play's universal theme of the futility of war.
The play, originally presented by Aeschylus in Athens in 472
BC,was itself unprecedented for its deeply sympathetic treatment of
a defeated enemy. The only surviving Greek tragedy to deal with
historical subject matter, the play is set in the aftermath of
Persia's stunning defeat in the battle of Salamis in 480 BC.
Remarkably for the time, however, the play does not gloat over the
Greek victory but instead vividly relates the anguish of the
The play chronicles the total destruction of the massive forces
led by the Persian king, Xerxes, through the eyes of the Persians
who learn of the devastation in the Persian capital of Susa.
From the opening scene, the actors controlled their bodies,
faces, and voices to evoke - without words - the Persians' sense of
impending doom. Slowly rocking back and forth in wavelike unison,
the actors conveyed the agonizing six-month wait for a messenger to
arrive with news of the war. …