KPBS AIRDATE: January 24, 2003
It’s a good week for contemplating the past. At North Coast Repertory Theatre, there’s “Stories About the Old Days,” a nostalgic 1986 two-hander about a couple of aging African Americans trying to heal from the errors of their youth. At 6th @ Penn Theatre, the emotions and stakes are high and the history is ancient. “Hippolytos,” written by Euripides in 428 B.C., also concerns love and self-hatred, but it throws in family curses and the anger of the gods. Though enormously disparate, and separated by 2500 years, both plays have to do with fate and free will, culpability and responsibility.
The recent play by Bill Harris was staged at the late, lamented Blackfriars Theatre a dozen years ago. TJ Johnson fits into this role as comfortably as the threadbare sweater he’s wearing. He does the wise and quick-witted elderly gent with ease and agility, and a naturalness that’s hard to resist. Here, he’s met head-on by a much-younger Monique Gaffney. She rises to the challenge quite credibly, as a brittle church-lady whose prissiness gives way to redemption and relationship, softened by cheeky banter and a checkers playoff. The play seems like a gentler, kinder, black version of D.L. Coburn’s 1977 “The Gin Game.” It’s a sweet story and a pleasant production, nicely designed, simply directed.
There’s nothing sweet about “Hippolytos,” except maybe the title character. His unforgivable error is his unswerving devotion to Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt. This enrages Aphrodite, jealous goddess of love, who takes vengeance on Hippolytos and his whole family — forcing his stepmother to fall in love with him and his father to banish him. Passion and revulsion do a deadly dance in this tale of fathers and sons, husbands and wives, rumors and truths, and most of all, where we place the blame for our actions and their consequences.
At 6th @ Penn, director Marc Overton has wisely chosen to keep the proceedings simple, highlighting the inexorable decline and decay by keeping the focus on the lush language, in this clear and comprehensible translation by Kenneth Cavandar. Celeste Innocenti stands out as both the goddesses, and John P. Silva is potent and pitiful as the grieving husband and infuriated father, King Theseus. Laurie Lehmann-Gray and Diep Huynh have strong moments as the tortured mother Phaedra and her son Hippolytos. But what we remember most is the story, the twists of fate, the timeless relevance. Kudos to Linda Castro and David Cohen, for significantly enriching our lives by bringing us the Greek masterpieces, in all their glory.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.