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  • "Without our past, we are just any town, no town at all"City of Wine
  • Alex Fallis (bio)
City of Wine: a seven-play cycle by Ned Dickens. Produced by Nightswimming. Individual plays produced by Simon Fraser Contemporary Arts (Harmonia), Humber Theatre (Pentheus), George Brown Theatre School (Laius), Studio 58/Langara College (Jocasta), Concordia University Fine Arts (Oedipus), Theatre at Grenfell (Creon) and Theatre @ York (Seven), at Theatre Passe Muraille. Toronto. 5–9 May 2009.

City of Wine Festival, produced by Nightswimming and presented at Theatre Passe Muraille, was a unique event. Seven of Canada's professional and university theatre training programs came together to perform a seven-play series that collectively dramatized the history of the city of Thebes. The festival was an unqualified success on numerous levels. It provided a snapshot of the variety of training available in Canada, filled the theatre for the run, created an energy that spilled into numerous celebratory parties, and brought national media attention to a previously unproduced group of plays. Robert Cushman, in The National Post, called it "a dizzying achievement" (Cushman, Review). Many of the schools hired outside professionals to work in senior positions, so the students were working with leading directors and designers. Eda Holmes, Craig Hall, and [End Page 90] Jillian Keiley were among the directors, and Vikki Anderson, Rebecca Picherack, Kimberley Purtell, and Mara Gottler among the designers.

Home to Tiresias, Oedipus, Jocasta, and Antigone, as well as lesser-known figures such as Cadmus and Harmonia, Thebes provides the setting for many significant stories in Greek mythology and drama. Any writer who uses these source stories is following a path trod by some of the greatest dramatic writers of the Western tradition, from the Athenians to the twentieth-century plays of Anouilh and Brecht. And this does not take into consideration the enormous impact the stories have had in non-dramatic literature and psychology. As Ned Dickens stated at a discussion of the cycle and festival hosted by the Canadian Stage Company, these are "saturated stories," both as myth and literature (Dickens, Panel Discussion). City of Wine is a dramatization of the full history of Thebes, from founding and growth, through power and "greatness," to decay and disappearance. Through fifteen years of development, Dickens' interest in Thebes grew from one play on Oedipus to three plays, adding a deeper exploration of Jocasta and Laius, and finally, to seven plays—one for each generation of the city. Dickens has maintained his own point of view on the source material, and though in some cases they dramatise the exact episodes other writers have also chosen, none of the plays can be considered adaptations. Dickens develops his interests through the full cycle, and it is really only in light of all seven plays performed together that these themes fully emerge. Through the series, an audience is continually asked to assess the uses of history and tradition. There is a powerful motif of prophecy and forgetfulness, which is developed through an extra-mythological imagining of the life of Tiresias. Perhaps the strongest theme Dickens develops is the interplay of individual action with the community at large. This interest is woven into the basic construction of the cycle. As well as the Named characters we recognize, such as Oedipus, Pentheus, and Antigone, he has created an intricate weaving of other characters through the generations of the city whom he calls "The UnNamed." Each play has seven characters that are only identified by seven objects: Bowl, Cloth, Firewood, Blood, Glass, Water, and Bread (a number of the plays have additional UnNamed as well). These figures recur in different forms through the plays, sometimes male, sometimes female, sometimes young, sometimes older. After the first two plays—Harmonia and Pentheus—the gods disappear, and the Named become central (through Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus). In these middle plays of the cycle, the interplay with the UnNamed can be characterized as the relationship of the powerful to the less powerful. However, the Named eventually give up their centrality as well. In the last two plays (Creon and Seven), only the UnNamed appear, reflecting on the "great names" and the history they have been a part of. Dickens has...


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