D.C. Theaters Open With Greek Plays
The New York Times, August 25, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Director Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre says he has always thought that plays by ancient Greeks about their myths and legends resemble the way Africans treat their own prehistory.

Khan and his crew open their 15th season Tuesday with an Africanized version of Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy, with an all-black cast and a chanting, dancing chorus. ``The Greek chorus chanted and danced too,'' Kahn said. ``It's our job to make it intelligible to the audience.''

Kahn has squeezed The Oedipus Plays into a single evening to tell the story of the tragic hero who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother.

Arena Stage, another of Washington's leading theaters, opens its season Aug. 31 with Agamemnon and His Daughters, combining six plays by three playwrights: Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles.

Adaptor Kenneth Cavander's production tells the story of the legendary king who led the Greeks in the Trojan war.

Molly Smith, Arena's artistic director, said, ``The recurring themes of ambition, revenge, courage, retribution, sacrifice and forgiveness also make it surprisingly Washingtonian.''

Neither theater has staged an ancient Greek play before -- not Arena, in 51 years, nor the Shakespeare, in 15. Kahn and Smith said their choice of season openers was a coincidence. After it was discovered, Smith said, they agreed that Washington could use a double dose of Greek tragedy. They will have a chance to explain why at a public symposium to be held at the Shakespeare Theatre next month.

Cavander said almost everything in his adaptation comes from a Greek original that he translated. He started studying ancient Greek when he was 12 and writing poetry in it at 19.

The Shakespeare Theatre troupe took a field trip to Zimbabwe to prepare for their Oedipus. Kahn said the trip taught him about how Africans actively express grief, compared with Westerners' more subdued grieving.

The group spent much of their 10-day African visit watching dances and rituals of the Shona and Ndebele tribes. The Oedipus Plays features music by an American, Baikida Carroll, which will be played by a three-man band on a variety of African instruments, including drums, conch shells, an African harp and the tambour, an Egyptian guitar. One of the three musicians comes from Ghana.