The Kindly Ones (2012)

First off, I want to thank everyone who came out to support us this season, the fourth in our humble history as a theatre company and the most successful yet.  This has been an inspiring year for us, which has allowed us to increase the scale of shows that we produce, and also taught us some valuable lessons about the necessary logistics for growing as an ensemble.  We have some exciting ideas about how to continue creating amazing yet affordable theatre for our community and the world at large, and will officially announce the 2013 season soon!

Artwork by Andrew Wright

But now I want to share some postmortem information about our most recent show with our friends and anyone who follows Blunt Objects Theatre.  The Kindly Ones is adapted from a play called The Eumenides by Aeschylus, in the old Greek days of ritual theatre.  I have not yet discussed that play in the Copyright-Free Play Archive, so I will give a brief overview of it now: it’s an uncomfortably misogynist play that belittles the role of women in society and dramatizes the mythological birth of what our feminist friends call The Patriarchy So yeah.  You may ask yourself why anybody would attempt the production of such a play, except perhaps for academic purposes.  And the response I would offer is: I don’t know, that’s sort of why I didn’t present it in our Archive earlier; The Kindly Ones as an adaptation is something else entirely.  The basic story is the same, but as Apollo would say, “different in some crucial elements.  Yes, Orestes killed his mother, Clytemnestra.  And yes, Clytemnestra killed Orestes’ father, Agamemnon.  Under Greek law, both of these deaths are justified, one no less than the other.  It is the cycle of vengeance.”  And still, consistent with the cycle of vengeance so common in Greek mythology, the Furies emerge with divine rage and the intent of killing Orestes.  Apollo favors the boy, and intervenes to try and save his life.  Athena descends from heaven as well, siding with the Furies in the conflict, but engaging in the first ever trial by jury to determine the boy’s fate in the fairest way possible.

Athena addresses the Audience directly.

From there, I chose to take the play in a different direction as playwright.  The reason I found this story so interesting is that the myth it dramatizes is more popularly remembered as the origin of Democracy, a subject that is very timely and significant in our country at the moment, and our play closed the weekend before another historical Election Day.  The myth is made even more fascinating when you realize that it inextricably ties Democracy and Patriarchy to the same tradition.  Hence, I approached this adaptation with a daring convention, specifically the role of Audience as Jury.  The original version of the play has the Chorus as Jury, casting their votes in a tense ceremony that allows the young Orestes to go free by the slim margin of one vote.  The single vote in question is actually cast by Athena, the prosecuting attorney, after Apollo reminds her that she was born from Zeus and is thereby proving that “the bond between mother and child” is not as important as the bond between father and child in regards to birth.  However, when that power is given to the audience, the tension has an even more palpable quality, and there are two different possible endings every night after the conflict has played out.

The version where Orestes dies at the end.

Over six shows at Magi Cultural Art Center in Pilsen, our audiences were also split.  Three nights, Orestes was released; and three nights, he was given over to the Furies to be torn apart offstage.  Even more interesting was our opening night performance, where the votes were split evenly and the audience was commanded by Apollo to reconvene and vote again.  This was a brilliant ad-lib by the actor playing Apollo that night, since we thought we had accounted for the event of a tie.  If the votes were looking close, we developed a cheat which we affectionately dubbed the “electoral college,” where the director would also contribute a vote and sway the fate of Orestes to his whim.  As luck would have it, we never had to implement that tactic for the rest of the run, and future shows had a distinct sway one way or the other.  However, that opening night, the audience swayed in favor of death when asked to reconsider their vote.

Athena comforts the child ghost Iphigenia, who was killed by Agamemnon to start the Trojan War, and was the motivation for Clytemnestra to kill Orestes’ father.

I am personally very satisfied with the production we offered, and audiences offered their excitement at being involved with this ritual as well.  As Apollo says in his opening monologue, “This is now a place of story, a sacred space.  Whenever two or more are gathered in the name of storytelling, that space becomes a theatre, and such a space is this.”  The dynamic of that ritual becomes so much more fascinating to me when the audience is given weight over the action.  In everything that we do as a theatre company, we strive to recognize the role of audience as pivotal to the theatrical experience as a whole.  But we also remain committed to keeping the show entertaining, and I feel we were highly successful in that as well.  Our audiences were consistently talkative and excited after the show ended each night, eager to discuss why they voted a certain way inquire how the other ending may have played out.  Our Director, Rick Olson, did a spectacular job of creating a kinetic playing space for his actors in the potentially stagnant scenario of a trial play.  The idea is that this was the first trial ever, and so many of the formal trappings have not been solidified yet.  I’d also like to think the script is helpful in that as well, with the siblings as lawyers occasionally bickering onstage and tallying their points out loud against each other, and the ability given to the Furies to work as mediums and summon dead characters to the witness stand.  This allows for crucial characters from the exposition to speak in their own voice, like Iphigenia, Agamemnon, and Clytemnestra.

Clytemnestra, who summoned the Furies, speaks for herself as an angry wraith.

One of my favorite aspects of this experience was being able to take a step back from directing, with my role as playwright being informed to greater depth by the theatrical process of collaboration.  Because of this, we were able to tweak many moments in the show that needed to be strengthened.  The most significant for me was the chance to flip the scenery while Orestes is being summoned: in my original draft, Apollo leaves to summon Orestes to stand at his own trial, while Athena has a dialogue with the Furies about the significance of the events playing out.  That scene is even more poignant now that the audience is able to see Apollo summon Orestes onstage while the Prosecution is absent, telling the boy to his face: “all of civilization is looking on you now.  Your soul is the fulcrum for humanity itself, balanced quite finely and ready to tip in any direction.  I can feel the weight of the ritual on us right now, time and space united across generations upon this single moment.  Of course the Furies seek you out, the fate of your soul determines what civilizations rise and fall for the next few millennia.”  Ultimately, I think it became one of the more powerful scenes in the play.

The Furies!

The cast of the play was as follows:

Apollo – Orion Couling
Athena – Angela Davis
Orestes – Alex Klier
Megeara/Iphigenia – Nicole Barrera
Tisiphone/Agamemnon – Alexandra Boroff*
Alecto/Clytemnestra – Whitney LaMora

* – denotes a Blunt Objects company member

I would like to thank all of them, as well as our supportive audiences and everyone involved with the production for such a profoundly exciting end to our 2012 season.  All of the stress and hard work that goes into making this sort of art from the ground up becomes beautifully worthwhile after a show becomes a success like this.  I am so happy that I was able to explore these myths and stories with such a talented group of people, and elaborate on themes that I consider to be very important to our modern society.  And so, to part in the tradition of our company’s blog here, I wish to leave you with a quote from the play itself.  Specifically, the moment when Apollo explodes on Orestes during the court’s recess, which was so fun to write and a joy to see staged every night:  “I am the god of the sun.  At a whim, I could blot out the sky and cast the world in darkness, withhold that celestial orb from the earth and starve the plants, which starves the beasts, which leaves the entire world in decimation.  Civilization exists because of me.  Literally, on a daily basis, my chariot rides by my command across the sky and by my will alone is life on this planet sustained.  So I am telling you, Orestes, that I have stretched myself to the fullest extent of my powers to keep you safe this day; and I need you to, just for a moment, appreciate what I am doing and not be constantly questioning the fact.

 

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