Peter Hall's mammoth staging of Tantalus, the new epic Trojan War drama originated by Denver Center Theatre Company, in association with Royal Shakespeare Company, rolls up the canvas Dec. 2, but it unfurls again in England in January 2001.
The two-day experience, penned by John Barton and adapted and directed by Peter Hall, opened Oct. 21 in a marathon staging that plunged theatregoers into more than 10 hours of Greek-inspired theatricality — complete with masks, myths and mayhem. The Dec. 2 staging is also a full marathon mounting, and every seat is sold, a spokesman said. Hall will be in attendance for the final show.
Denver Center Theatre Company artistic director Donovan Marley told Playbill On-Line the show was a "millennial gift" from Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Donald R. Seawell and the board. The $6 million budget was arranged separately from the regular season budget of the nonprofit Denver Center Theatre Company. The DCTC season continues in 2001 to offer its customary diet of world premieres, contemporary plays and revivals. Hard to believe, but a revival of George Kelly's The Show Off has played on the DCTC Ricketson stage during the run of Tantalus.
What did Marley and company learn from the experience?
"We know that we have the facility and the people-resources to do it," he said. He added that they learned a valuable scheduling lesson as well: Do not plan Wednesday matinees if you are offering epic shows. Denver folks were reluctant to take work off for the experience, Marley said. "We had no precedent, we had no way of knowing," he said.
The 1998 Regional Theatre Tony Award gave the company international recognition, but Tantalus eclipsed that honor, Marley said.
"The amount of people that have come in from out of town, and out of the country — there's no question that Tantalus moved us onto a broader plain," he said.
Previews for the event, which has included 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 played in repertory. Before rave reviews and word of mouth got out, seats were still available for early performances, but later shows began selling out.
Tantalus will tour England January-April 2001 and then settle down in London in May. The cast will be slightly different, and has the addition of RSC vet and Denver Center Theatre resident artist Tony Church.
English bookings in 2001 are in Salford Quays at the Lowry (Jan. 27-Feb. 3), Nottingham at Theatre Royal (Feb. 14-24), Milton Keynes at the Milton Keynes Theatre (Feb. 28-March 3), Newcastle at the Theatre Royal (March 10-17), Norwich at the Theatre Royal (April 4-8), and London at the Barbican Centre (May 2-19). Visit the RSC website at http://www.rsc.org.
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.
The work is 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 his The Greeks, which drew from ancient 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 Denver 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 billed 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 accompanied some performances, if theatregoers chose to indulge. Barton was 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.
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."
Visit the DCTC web site at www.denvercenter.org.
Hall talks more about Tantalus in an Oct. 17 Playbill On-Line Brief Encounter interview. To get it, click here.
— By Kenneth Jones