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Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008

Reviving Ancient Greek Verse

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   Shortly after the Battle of Salamis, in which Persia lost thousands of men and hundreds of ships to Greece, Aeschylus wrote about the conflict. Not only is The Persians the world's oldest surviving play, it's also the first play to be written from the perspective of the losing side.

  Some 2,500 years later, when the United States embarked on the invasion of Iraq, the late Tony Randall, then artistic director of the National Actors Theatre, commissioned playwright Ellen McLaughlin to quickly produce a modern translation of the work. Despite suffering from bronchitis, McLaughlin adapted history's oldest play into fresh, contemporary language in just two weeks. Years later, with the United States still in Iraq, Renaissance Theaterworks opens its season with a production of what McLaughlin considers to be "one of the greatest anti-war plays of all time."

  Talented actor/director Angela Iannone, who helms the production, says she remains undaunted by staging a play that has been around for thousands of years. "A good play is a good play, no matter how old," Iannone says. "The hardest plays to do are the ones that are really poorly written."

  Renaissance Theaterworks is planning to deliver a straightforward production in lieu of a radically new perspective. It won't be a period reconstruction, and there will be no masks. Nor will it be staged in modern dress.

  "Our essential job is to speak the language as cleanly as possible and tell the story," Iannone says.

  The language is particularly intricate, as the beauty of Aeschylus' Greek verse doesn't make for easy translation. "The ability to turn beautiful new words and phrases into rhythmic flights of fancy was highly prized, and it is impossible to translate into English," Iannone notes. The director is pleased with the adaptation, however, stating, "McLaughlin has several long speeches that manage to be extremely beautiful and complex in their technical requirements."

  A talented cast is set to breathe new life into Ancient Greek verse under Iannone's direction. Included in the cast are James Fletcher as Religion, Michael Duncan as Justice and T. Stacy Hicks as Treasury. The talented, young Marti Gobel plays Queen Atossa, who eagerly awaits news of the battle. Gobel, who recently appeared in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre's Well, has striking features and a magnetic stage presence. Travis Knight, appearing in his first serious leading role since graduating from UW-Milwaukee, closes out the play in the role of young King Xerxes.

  Renaissance's production of The Persians opens Oct. 10 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre, and runs through Nov. 2.

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