An African Oedipus in Athens: On the Second Anniversary of 9/11, an American Troupe Finds Itself Ensconced in the Very Bosom of Democracy and Drama

By Kahn, Michael | American Theatre, May-June 2004 | Go to article overview

An African Oedipus in Athens: On the Second Anniversary of 9/11, an American Troupe Finds Itself Ensconced in the Very Bosom of Democracy and Drama


Kahn, Michael, American Theatre


Last September, Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, D.C., remounted its 2001 production of The Oedipus Plays at the 2003 Athens Festival in Greece. The production, a single-evening adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy, set the story in ancient Africa, with Avery Brooks cast in the title role.

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WHEN WE ARRIVED IN ATHENS THAT FIRST DAY, IT WAS VERY hot. We went to the theatre--the Odeon of Herodes Atticus--and when we stepped on the stage, we looked up and saw the Acropolis, the Parthenon. I think it struck us all, in a way it never had before, that we were part of a continuum of thousands of years. Here we were performing in a 2,000-year-old theatre that had been doing the plays of Sophocles for centuries. It was a very moving moment for all of us.

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While in Athens, we had to rehearse from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. because of the intense heat during the day. On the next-to-last night of rehearsal, a full moon came up behind the theatre, bathing all of us in its strange light. At that moment, we felt as if somebody were saying it was okay for us to be there.

On the morning of the opening, I called the company together to thank them. It was also my birthday, so at 4 a.m., we had a little cake. The Greek crew applauded us: Here we were, Americans performing the work of their national playwright in a production set in Africa with black actors. We did not bring an American play. We did not bring an American musical. We were bringing a play about which Greeks have very proprietary feelings. We had given this crew a very difficult challenge, with long, hard hours of work, yet they saw how completely dedicated we were to making the play work for this space, for this audience and for this night . …

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