Shakespeare Theatre Company Announces THE ORESTEIA Cast
In a fitting conclusion to his illustrious tenure at STC, Michael Kahn is bringing a dream project to the stage. "I've always wanted to do all of The Oresteia," he says. "When I was in college, we read the whole Oresteia, and I was completely fascinated by the story, by the form, by the relationships, by the incredible depths of what it was about-violence, revenge, and the search for human justice."
Aeschylus' Oresteia-the three plays known as Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides- is the only surviving trilogy from the ancient Greek theatre. Due to the epic nature of the story and length of the original text, the Oresteia is rarely performed in its entirety, but now the trilogy has been adapted into one evening of electrifying theatre. Michael Kahn has famously directed condensed trilogies before, such as The Oedipus Plays and Henry VI, and knows the grand scale is heightened by a sleek, rousing adaptation.
"I knew that it needed an extraordinary writer to take a look at this material and adapt it, shape it, think about it," explains Kahn. "I thought a lot about different writers who have done adaptations of the great classics, and finally there was really only one, and that is Ellen McLaughlin."
Playwright Ellen McLaughlin, a prodigious interpreter of the Ancient Greek plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, honors the original plot and language with a fresh Take That imbues them with a modern resonance in this newly commissioned adaptation. Her version of Aeschylus' The Persians was produced at STC in 2006 to great acclaim.
McLaughlin's play compresses Aeschylus' trilogy into one thrilling three-act play centered on Agamemnon's slaughter of his daughter, committed in the name of martial duty and pious sacrifice, but deemed unforgivable by his wife Clytemnestra. Her revenge is a work of patience and passion, emotions linked by the endurance of suffering.
McLaughlin is quick to point out that the Ancient Greeks were inventing democracy at the same time they were creating theatre. "The Oresteia are three of the oldest plays we have. They show us Aeschylus grappling with the experiment of civilization-considering, with clear eyes, its weaknesses and its hopes. The Greeks had no illusions about the fragility of society and of democracy. They knew all too well that the whole undertaking was always at risk, threatened by forces both without and within."
Rather than reframing the birth of democratic conventions, McLaughlin questions the very notion of justice. Is justice the search for truth or the pursuit of retribution? How can we accept our complicity in crimes, whether we partake in the violence or merely turn away? Where is our shared humanity in a world of suffering, violence and the galling indifference of the gods?
McLaughlin sees a clear reason to sharing ancient drama in our own times. "We have to remember that these stories were as ancient to the Greeks as they are to us," she explains. "They used these old stories to look at their own times and to assess their souls, the size of them, what they were capable of and what they were up against. I believe that's what artists do, and if you're lucky, you do it with an extraordinary company like this one."
McLaughlin translates the source material in a surprising and new light. Rewriting the myth of the House of Atreus, violence and bloodshed are not only the cause of the wretched family's curse but also their bloodied birthright.
For his final production at STC (after 33 years, having overseen more than 160 shows and directed 65 of them), Kahn wished to choose a work that is epic in scope and sentiment. Kahn has assembled some longtime STC artists for his grand finale including: Kelley Curran (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2), STC Affiliated Artist Franchelle Stewart Dorn (Mourning Becomes Electra), Corey Allen (Macbeth), and Helen Carey (The Persians). Making debuts on the STC stage are Rad (Trojan Women), Josiah Bania (Ironbound), Zoë Sophia Garcia (Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra), Patrena Murray (Gloria: A Life), Sophia Skiles (Henry VI), Kati Brazda (Our Town), Jonathan Louis Dent (Church and State), Alvin Keith (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Arica Himmel (The Layover), and Kelcey Watson (Hollywood in the Hood)
The Oresteia is made possible by a generous grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Ellen McLaughlin's plays have received numerous national and international productions. They include Days and Nights Within, A Narrow Bed, Infinity's House, Iphigenia and Other Daughters, Tongue of a Bird, The Trojan Women, Helen, The Persians, Oedipus, Ajax in Iraq, Kissing the Floor, Septimus and Clarissa, and Penelope. Producers include: The Public Theater, The National Actors' Theater and New York Theater Workshop in NYC, Actors' Theater of Louisville, The Actors' Gang L.A., Classic Stage Co., N.Y., The Intiman Theater, Seattle, Almeida Theater, London, The Mark Taper Forum, L.A., The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Getty Villa, California., and The Guthrie Theater, Minnesota, among other venues.
Grants and awards include: Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting, Great American Play Contest, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the NEA, the Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, the Berilla Kerr Award for playwrighting. T.C.G./Fox Residency Grant -- for Ajax in Iraq, written for the A.R.T. Institute.
She has taught playwriting at Barnard College since 1995. Other teaching posts include Breadloaf School of English, Yale Drama School and Princeton University, among others.
Ms. McLaughlin is also an actor. She is most well known for having originated the part of the Angel in Tony Kushner's Angels in America, appearing in every U.S. production from its earliest workshops through its Broadway run.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Since the start of his tenure as Artistic Director in 1986, Michael Kahn has directed 65 productions at STC, received 28 awards for his artistry and leadership and steered the Company to the 2012 Regional Theatre Tony Award. In 1991 he inaugurated the Free For All, which brings an STC production to audiences completely free of charge each year and has reached 690,000 patrons. He also created the Academy for Classical Acting, an MFA program in partnership with The George Washington University. Since the 1960s Kahn's work has appeared on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in theatres around the United States, in addition to Athens, Cairo, Stratford upon-Avon and Adelaide. He has directed productions for the Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington National and New York City Center Opera companies. Previously Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre Center, the American Shakespeare Festival, The Acting Company and Chautauqua Theatre and Conservatory, he was a founding faculty member of the Drama Division of The Juilliard School and served as the Richard Rodgers Director of Drama for 15 years. He has also been on the faculties of New York University and the Circle in the Square Theatre School. Honored by numerous awards, including a Tony Award Nomination for Show Boat, Kahn was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and was recognized as an Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 2013.
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