Remember Kevin Costner in the costly sci-fi film epic Waterworld? Well, the film may have sunk at the box office domestically, but those tubular pants he wore are now among the more than 150 costumes dressing a cast of almost 40 actors who are bringing to life an epic production: The Alley Theatre of Houston's two-part production of The Greeks, which opened March 5 and continues through May 4 as part of the 50th anniversary celebration at the illustrious regional theatre.
Costner's pants may be the most sensationalistic, but it is certainly the least of the myriad details going into an ambitious enterprise drawn from the great classical stories of the Trojan War and the Fall of the House of Atreus.
While the plays adapted by John Barton and Kenneth Cavandar from works of Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus go back 2,500 years, artistic director Gregory Boyd maintains that they are as relevant and accessible as such popular cultural phenomenons as the re-issue of George Lucas's Star Wars trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather series and the works of New Age mythic interpreter Joseph Campbell. Even the Simpson and Menendez trials as well as the tragedy of the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing, alas, resonate with the themes of these ancient sagas of love, lust, murder, revenge, adventure and rescue.
Boyd, who withdrew as director of Jekyll and Hyde to concentrate on The Greeks, acknowledges that the approaching millennium may be the catalyst for a number of slated productions based on these classical plays. But it is the public's hunger for "good, solid story telling" that accounts for their transgenerational appeal. In fact, this The Greeks premiered in 1980 at London's Royal Shakespeare Company. The following year, Boyd co-directed a production of the epic for its American premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, MA.
"These stories are the basis of everything, and both Lucas and Coppola have acknowledged that debt in past interviews," says Boyd. "These plays are Dysfunction Junction."
But, adds the director, while the stories are filtered through the dispassion of legal speak on Court TV, the plays are deeply passionate, extreme and uncensored. Unafraid to "throw gasoline to the fire," Euripides and company offer audiences an intriguing form of what Boyd calls "mythic psychoanalysis." "These guys didn't just write drama, they invented it," he says. "They give voice to what the characters are actually thinking and feeling at the moment of action, be it confrontation, murder, battle, suicide, rape, assassination. Far from being remote and fustian and creaky, [these] plays are actually extremely light, fast, terse and move at a clip."
In fact, there are even moments of levity and nourishment of spirit interwoven amidst the mayhem on top of which Obie-winning composer John Gromada has written a score for four musicians playing more than 150 instruments-from ancient lyre to synthesizer-and Sara Rudner of Twyla Tharp fame will be putting the actors through their musical paces.
So how did Costner's pants end up adding to the 160-plus designed by Susan Tsu? Inspired by the production designs of the Mel Gibson Road Warrior movies, Boyd said that he and his creative associates went to L.A. for a buying/costume-making spree. "I think we found them in a studio costume warehouse," he says. "The sensual, post apocalyptic look is just right."
-- By Patrick Pacheco