BWW Review: Greek tragedies are recounted in BAD NEWS! I WAS THERE... at NYU Skirball Center
Arriving at New York University's Skirball Center, I was handed two green cards. The Oedipus card contained this quote from Sophocles: "How dreadful the knowledge of the truth can be when there's no help in truth." Heading down the stairs into the waiting lobby, the walls were adorned with information about the Greeks and current headlines about various disasters. So begins the site-specific experience appropriately titled Bad News! i was there...
Eight actors begin this piece on the stairs above the crowd. They introduce the players of Athens. We hear "no greatness comes without disaster." Audience guides who double as the chorus split the groups by color. There are four separate areas where messengers from classical drama share shocking stories from the ancient world. The famous tales of madness, murder, warfare and infanticide are performed from the works of Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, Racine and Brecht.
The monologues are spoken and sung in English with a handful of other languages thrown in occasionally. Presumably this is meant to underscore the universal nature of the human condition. In certain sections, there is a contemporary feel rather than a more traditional, classical presentation. When it is announced that "Orestes is dead," the next line is "fake news." That is followed by misinformation about one of our current presidential candidates. "AOC opposes daylight savings time because it hastens climate change."
From each double monologue, the group is escorted to the next location with song. Mine was "Paris, Priam, Hector, Hecuba." It will be days before that melody leaves my head. All of this bad news is punctuated with "I was there and I will tell you everything." Creator and Director JoAnne Akalaitis is drawing parallels between these horrific histories to our current obsession with first person narration of bad news.
My last group section was Medea and Thyestes which hilariously began with Jenny Ikeda holding something which could easily represent a book report. She mischieviously looks up at us and promises "Medea - the high points." When you hear the line "passion is stronger than reason" it is up to each person to interpret the connection to current events.
In the final part, all of the audience comes together to see citizens waiting for the return of their men from war. "Never in the history of the world did so many men die on the same day." Fake news now! The human race has certainly bettered the death count in modern times.
Bad News! i was there... is more interesting than successful as a piece of theater. The group transitions were slightly bumbling. Companies like Third Rail Projects have memorably orchestrated how intriguing and mystical those movements can be as part of an entire experience. All of the individual performances were good, however. It was certainly curious hearing other stories simultaneously occurring in the background while listening to the section you were in. Therein lies the problem; a lack of focus. Perhaps that is a commentary on modern times as well.