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Theatre Journal 53.2 (2001) 324-326
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Ion. By Euripides. Classical Greek Theatre Festival, De Jong Concert Hall, Brigham Young University Campus, Provo, Utah. 26 September 2000.
For the past thirty years, the Classical Greek Theatre Festival has been working its way through the entire cannon of extant Greek plays, performing at a number of venues throughout the Salt Lake City area and on tour to colleges throughout the Western states. For their thirtieth anniversary production, they returned to Euripides' Ion, in a new adaptation by David Lan. This production, directed by David Dynak, was a self-consciously postmodern attempt to make Greek theatre both accessible and engaging through a pastiche of contemporary music and dance, a set and costumes evoking pop culture, and an ironic and emotionally distanced acting style. While the provocative set and solid performance of B. Joe Rogan in the title role worked well to achieve the goal, the complexity of this thought-provoking play was undermined by a dancing, singing chorus, inappropriately mismatched costumes, and heightened acting that spilled over into farce.
The story of Ion lent itself to a modern retelling: a young man searches for his identity in the midst of family and political dysfunction. Doubting his religious convictions and questioning the society moving to embrace him, he believes that perhaps violence may be the answer. David Lan's translation emphasized the contemporary feel by rendering the original verse structure obsolete, generalizing topical humor, and liberally updating the idioms (Xuthus threatened Ion's life by proclaiming, "He's dead meat"). At the same time, he left the emotionally extreme language intact. The resulting script, while it served Dynak's production concept well, erased both the specific history of the piece and the depth of its theme. While the language was perhaps more accessible, the characters' struggles to reconcile with violent forces separating them from the gods became ridiculous and elicited laughter at inappropriate climaxes.
The most striking moments of this production occurred before any text was spoken as the chorus entered to wrap four large mummy-like statues (designed by S. Glenn Brown) in brightly colored cloth. These, at first lying broken across the stage, were transformed into a row of columns, whose bindings did not quite conceal the female form underneath. The visual metaphor of concealing and revealing was particularly effective when Ion (B. Joe Rogan) was brought onstage sheathed in cloth and placed on a broken Ionic column base. Unwinding his wrapping was staged as a birth. The columns and a large center altar stone defined the Temple at Delphi, where the action of the play took place. The draped figures were an eerie and appropriate backdrop to a story that, as the Prologue reminded the audience, occurs in a holy space.
Rogan's performance lived up to his evocative entrance. At once innocent and wise, his journey through the play from an orphaned temple worker to the recognized son of Apollo was characterized by an emotional honesty, a lithe physicality, and a mastery of the language that avoided the traps created by the translation and Dynak's direction. The other actors did not fare as well. Kathryn Brussard, as Creusa, Ion's queenly mother, attempted ironic distance by restricting her performance to a single vocal and emotional level that peaked early and quickly became tiresome. David Neisler, as Creusa's husband, Xuthus, found surprising moments of humor in his bland role, but remained detached throughout--treating his wife's attempted murder of their new found son with the same emotion as his small talk with the chorus. Neisler's second role as the Messenger was indistinguishable from his first--the only difference being in his Land's End costume that was so inappropriate, at first I believed a mistake had forced the actor to wear his own clothes onstage.
The rest of the roles, played by various members of the chorus, were performed with absolute conviction but, due to similar unconnected cultural references in costumes (designed by Brenda Van der Wiel), and heightened acting, became parodic. Shana H. Wiersum was particularly committed as the...