Though arguably Sophocles' greatest play, Philoctetes has for years been neglected while the Oedipus trilogy received staging after staging. Now that imbalance is being redressed, thanks to several recent productions of Seamus Heaney's adaptation, The Cure At Troy. The latest comes to Yale Repertory, Mar. 26-Apr. 18, in a mounting helmed by resident director Liz Diamond.
The drama, by Irish poet and 1995 Nobel Prize-winner Heaney, recently had an extended production at Off-Broadway's Jean Cocteau Repertory.
Philoctetes, cursed with a wound that gives off an offensive stench, has been exiled to an island. Now, however, Odysseus, the very Greek who exiled him, needs Philoctetes' magic archery bow. The Greeks must convince an understandably bitter Philoctetes to return with them and lead them to victorious battle. Heaney has called Troy a "version" of Philoctetes, rather than an adaptation or translation.
Heaney was born in 1939 in Country Derry, Northern Ireland. In 1984, he was elected the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard, and served for two years as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. His works include 11 books of poetry, 2 books of criticism, and one play: The Cure at Troy .
Stan Wojewodski Jr., artistic director of Yale Rep, said of Troy, "Sophocles' story of the warrior who must find a way to fuse forgiveness and honor continues to resonate in Heaney's Northern Ireland, in our country, and in the world at large." Starring in the Yale Rep production, which opens Mar. 31, are Reg E. Cathey, J. Ed Araiza (Odyssey), Luis A. Laporte, Jr. (Neoptolemus), Angela Bullock, Robin Dana Miles, and Socorro Santiago.
In other Yale Repertory news, the company kicked off its current (31st) season, Oct. 23, 1997, with performances of Geography, an avant garde dance/multi-media piece conceived by choreographer Ralph Lemon and written for nine male dancers, actors, and percussionists of African descent.
Now Lemon is working on part two of his intended trilogy, titled "Asia." The piece will look at Asian spirituality through the eyes of an American black man who's also a Buddhist. Lemon went to India in February to work with performers from Taiwan, India, China and Japan. (He'll visit the latter two countries this fall.)
Says Lemon, who holds associate artist status at Yale Rep, "I will be able to apply what I have learned through the process of creating Part 1 (Africa) with an extraordinary group of collaborators."
Lemon's collaborators on the first part of Geography included composers Francisco Lopez of Spain and Paul D. Miller (a DJ who is also known as "Spooky, That Subliminal Kid"). Tracie Morris, who writes Nuyorican performance poetry, shaped the text for Geography from Lemon's outline. Set design was by installation artist Nari Ward.
No production date is yet set for Asia, though Lemon expects his creative team to be in place by the fall.
In the meantime, Yale Rep theatregoers can catch the world premiere of C.B. Coleman's Petersburg, based on the Andrei Bely novel, Apr. 30-May 23.
For information on shows at Yale Rep, 222 York St. In New Haven, CT, call (203) 432-1234.
-- By David Lefkowitz