Peter Hall's mammoth staging of Tantalus, the new epic Trojan War drama being originated by Denver Center Theatre Company, in association with Royal Shakespeare Company, opens Oct. 21 in a marathon staging that will plunge theatregoers into more than 10 hours of Greek-inspired theatricality — complete with masks, myths and mayhem.
Previews for the event, which includes Greek-themed meals, panel discussions, study guides on the DCTC website and more, began Sept. 15 at DCTC's Stage Theatre in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Performances continue in repertory to Dec. 2, prior to an early 2001 tour of England and a run in London.
Following the unprecedented six-month rehearsal process that began in late March, the running time for the 10-play, three part Tantalus is now 10 hours and 30 minutes, shorter than the 15 hours previously thought. The shorter schedule allows audiences to see the entire epic in two days rather than three.
Part I had its debut Sept. 15 and played concurrent with tech rehearsals for Part II. Part II began previews Sept. 22 and Part III began previews Sept. 30.
There will be several marathon stagings, but otherwise the play is seen over two days. Complete schedule and production information can be found on the official web site at http://www.denvercenter.org/tantalus/ The work is being billed as "Peter Hall's production of" Tantalus, "an adaptation of the original 10-play cycle by John Barton" with "additional text by Colin Teevan" and directed by Hall and his son, Edward Hall.
The 10 plays show events before, during and after the Trojan War, with a hybrid international cast and creative team. Barton draws on myths and stories, but not extant plays (unlike The Greeks, which drew from ancients scripts).
"Everything is, in a sense, from John's imagination except the facts of the myths," British director Peter Hall told Playbill On Line. "I'll give you a crude example: Everyone knows that the wooden horse was let in [to the walled city of Troy]. There are all sorts of theories and various myths about why it was let in, who let it in and what happened when it was let in. What John has done has said: 'The Trojan Horse was let in and Troy was consequently destroyed, what is my interpretation of the events which led to these facts?' It's often — like politics and like war is — quite contradictory. One version of the myth has the son of Hector inside the horse; he was the small boy, the fella who wriggled out of the horse and opened the trap door and got them all out. Another version of the myth has him disguised as a girl trying to seduce Priam, who had a penchant for virgins, thus killing Priam and going on a murder spree. Now, he can't have done both — so which does he do? In Tantalus he goes to bed with Priam."
Tantalus begins with modern women drinking wine and talking on a Mediterranean beach about Greek myths, and morphs into the events leading to the Trojan War.
"It's actually an examination of a number of the Greek myths and stories surrounding the Trojan War, but it starts now, in contemporary time," Hall said. "You could say it's like 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' — Alice has been dreaming of Greek myths and wakes up having experienced an awful lot of them. It allows us to have a modern visual sensibility. It allows the audience to have a touchstone of modernity in the sense that the girls, who are intelligent and probably college students, on a tour of Greece — although it's not specified or literal — they know quite a lot about the myths and they find out a lot more on behalf of the audience."
The flags of Greece, the United Kingdom, the United States and The Denver Center for the Performing Arts were raised March 27 to commemorate the first day of rehearsals for John Barton's Tantalus.
The cast of 29 — made up of U.S., British, European and Asian born performers — includes principals Alyssa Bresnahan, Alan Dobie, Greg Hicks, Annalee Jeffries, Ann Mitchell, Robert Petkoff, David Ryall and Mia Yoo; chorus members Francesca Carlin, Joy Jones, Tess Lina, Jeanne Paulsen, Chrisytina Pawl, Nicole Poole, Juliet Smith, Mia Tagano, Vickie Tanner, Robin Terry and Christen Simon; ensemble members Elijah Alexander, Joshua Coomer, Pierre-Marc Diennet, Morgan Hallet, Steve Hughes, Tif Luckinbill, David McCann, Randy Moore, Matt Pepper; and musician Yukio Tsuji. The cast has changed slightly since March.
The creative team includes associate director and dramaturg Colin Teevan, associate director Anthony Powell, composer Mick Sands, choreographer Donald McKayle, scenic and costume designer Dionysis Fotopoulos and lighting designer Sumio Yoshii.
DCTC is billing the $6 million Tantalus as the largest theatrical undertaking in history, and is promoting the show as the city's must-see cultural event of the year. Multi course Greek meals will accompany performances, if theatregoers choose to indulge. Barton will he on hand for panel discussions about the production.
Tantalus is a Greek figure who was tempted by the food of the Gods and punished for offering ambrosia to mortals. His name is the root of the word "tantalize." The heroes, gods, mortals, men and women of the Trojan War, some of them descended from Tantalus, are part of the epic.
DCTC operates in several spaces within the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. In 2000-2001, Denver Center Theatre Company will present nine plays (plus Tantalus) rather than the customary 12. DCTC freely mixes world premieres, classics and Denver premieres of contemporary drama in its seasons. The company was given the 1998 Tony Award for excellence in regional theatre.
Barton, a director and writer, is a major figure in classical theatre in the 20th century. With Hall, he helped found the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1960 and became associate director in 1964. He is a Shakespeare expert and previously adapted the works of Euripides in The Greeks cycle in 1980.
Tantalus offers the gouging out of eyes, slayings, violence, but Hall has said in essays that the piece is also about personal dilemmas, moral decisions, private choices of human beings. Is it a big soap opera?
"I think that's apt," Hall told Playbill On-Line. "It is like a great soap opera. Each episode is just under an hour, and it is about a series of dysfunctional families and it is about politics and violence and sexual attraction. And it is about the fact that if you lead any kind of public life, it is quite hard not to be corrupted. Some characters, like Odysseus, are ironic enough to understand that you can't be successful unless you admit corruption. That's pretty chilling and history has plenty of politicians who have been successful by doing just that."
Tickets range $130-$280. The Stage Theatre is located at Speer & Arapahoe in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. For more information, call the DCPA box office at (303) 893-4100, or (800) 641-1222, or visit the web site at www.denvercenter.org.
Hall talks more about Tantalus in the Brief Encounter interview on the front page of Playbill On-Line Oct. 17-23.
— By Kenneth Jones