La MaMa Presents Stewart's 'AESCULAPIUS' Beginning 5/28

By: Apr. 13, 2009
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La MaMa E.T.C. presents Ellen Stewart's world-premiere play AESCULAPIUS -- the first known play to tell the story of the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing -- featuring an international cast from the acclaimed Great Jones Repertory Company at La MaMa E.T.C. Annex (66 East 4th Street) in Manhattan, with previews beginning May 28, prior to an official press opening Sunday, May 31.
Conceived, written, and directed by the legendary Ellen Stewart, AESCULAPIUS tells how the son of sun god Apollo and mortal maiden Coronis transcends to his rightful place in the heavens because of his great work in medicine. It is believed that Aesculapius' story has never before been told on stage.

In Ms. Stewart's adaptation of this classic Greek tale, Aesculapius is the son of the mortal Coronis, who was raped by the god Apollo. Angered by Coronis' agreement to raise the child with her true love, mortal Ischys, Apollo's twin sister, Artemis, kills Coronis. Although Apollo tries to stop his sister he, can not save Coronis. Apollo puts Coronis on a funeral pyre and, as she is burning, he reaches into the flames and takes the baby from Coronis' womb. Aesculapius is sent to be raised in nature by the centaur Chiron, who teaches the boy about herbal medicines and the lore of the woods. The adult Aesculapius uses herbs given to him by snakes to bring a king's son back from the dead, angering his brother, the god of the underworld Hades, who is jealous of Aesculapius' ability to use medicine to ward off death, and thus orders Aesculapius' death. In fact, this rarely told story of the father of medicine is rife with incest, murder, betrayal, passion and unrequited love.
Aesculapius' story inspired the familiar serpent-entwined-staff insignia used today by hospitals and doctors worldwide as a symbol of excellence in medicine.

AESCULAPIUS features music composed by Ellen Stewart, with additional music by Michael Sirotta, Yukio Tsuji, and Heather Paauwe; and Greek music written by Elizabeth Swados, performed by live musicians.

The production features choreography by Federico Restrepo, puppets by Theodora Skipitares, light design by Federico Restrepo, scenic consultants Mark Tambella and Jun Maeda, and sound design by Tim Schellenbaum.

This presentation of AESCULAPIUS represents a continuation of La MaMa E.T.C. and The Great Jones Company's tradition of contemporary interpretations and adaptations of the classics. The production will retain the inimitable international flavor that is a trademark of Ellen Stewart's body of work at La MaMa, with a multi-ethnic cast consisting of over a dozen artists from Colombia, Italy, Japan, Germany, China, Korea, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Republic of Congo, Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States.

The cast includes George Drance, Cary Gant, Denise Greber, Allison Hiroto, Onni Johnson, Michael Lynch, Benjamin Marcantoni, Matt Nasser, Prisca Ouya, Eugene the Poogene, Frederico Restrepo, Valois, MerEdith Wright, Perry Yung, and Kat Yew.

In 1972, The Great Jones Repertory Company was created by Andrei Serban, Elizabeth Swados and Ellen Stewart, who have collaborated on numerous adaptations of classics at La MaMa. In recent years, Ellen Stewart and The Great Jones Repertory Company have presented a reinterpretation of Carlo Gozzi's THE RAVEN; an original adaptation based on William Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET; and a world-premiere adaptation of the rarely staged Greek saga HERAKLES VIA PHAEDRA, which The New York Times called "theater restored to its ritual communal origins." In 2004, La MaMa E.T.C. presented SEVEN -- a month-long festival including the world-premiere of Ms. Stewart's ANTIGONE, performed in repertory with revivals of six productions previously staged by Great Jones Repertory Company. In her New York Times review of ANTIGONE, Margo Jefferson proclaimed: "Ms. Stewart is one of Off-Broadway's great pioneers. And La MaMa is one of the few institutions that unfailingly welcomes theater that is experimental and international."

Under Ellen Stewart's guidance, La MaMa E.T.C. enjoys international recognition as the home for theatrical experimentation. La MaMa was the first Off-Off Broadway theatres to support full-time resident companies, and was the first Off-Off companies to tour Europe. La MaMa has been honored with numerous OBIE Awards, dozens of Drama Desk Awards, Bessie Awards and Villager Awards. In January 1993, Ellen Stewart was inducted into the "Broadway Theatre Hall of Fame" becoming the first Off-Off-Broadway producer to ever receive this honor. In 2006, Ellen Stewart received a special Tony Award for supporting theatre artists of all nations and cultures in the development, production and presentation of new work. In 2007, she won the Prestigious Praemium Imperiale Arts Award, which is the Noble Prize for the Arts, named by Japan Art Association.
Well-known names of the theatre for whom La MaMa was their first artistic home in the United States include Andrei Serban and Elizabeth Swados (FRAGMENTS OF A GREEK TRILOGY); Jerzy Grotowski; Tadeusz Kantor (Cricot Theatre of Poland); Tom O'Horgan (HAIR); Lee Breuer (Mabou Mines); Elizabeth Swados (RUNAWAYS); Tom Eyen (DREAMGIRLS); Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas"); Joel Zwick ("My Big; Fat Greek Wedding"); Harold Pinter (THE ROOM -- La MaMa was the first presenter of Mr. Pinter's work in the United States); Kazuo Ohno (The Father of Butoh), Tan Dun ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), Julia Stiles ("O"), and Diane Lane ("Unfaithful"), as well as artists from Japan, Nigeria, Korea, Zaire, Ivory Coast, and countless other countries.

La MaMa's heritage continues to grow with programs at Ellen Stewart's La MaMa Umbria, an artist residence in Italy, where international understanding is promoted through cultural exchange. La MaMa Umbria has, in the past 20 years, presented over 30 theatre productions as well as workshops, art exhibitions, and conferences.

Performances of AESCULAPIUS run May 28-June 14; Thursdays through Sundays at 7:30pm at La MaMa E.T.C. Annex (66 East 4th Street). Tickets are $25 ($20 Students/Seniors) and can be reserved by calling 212-475-7710 or online at


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