Thoroughly Modern Myths

Thoroughly Modern Myths

Undergrads offer new takes on old stories

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

What do you get when you cross the ancient Greek tragedy of Euripides with Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" or the soapy melodrama of the Lifetime women's cable network?

You get a Mob assassin dragging an Athenian prince around a classroom by the tennis shoe, the sorceress Medea played by a male undergraduate in a blonde wig from Wal-Mart - and another round in the annual Follies staged by Asst. Prof. Christopher McDonough's (Classical Studies) students in Classical Mythology.

In a colorful close to his mythology course each spring, McDonough has members of the class present their own interpretations of scenes from Greek tragedies. The students' 10-minute vignettes have included Sophocles' "Antigone" set amid the French Resistance and a rendering of Euripides' "Medea" fashioned after Hitchcock's "Psycho."

In royal headdress from a local burger palace, Brian DeCaro '02 as King Creon laments the poisoned princess Glauce, played by Amanda Matragano '01, in a scene from Euripides' "Medea" during the recent Follies in Asst. Prof. Christopher McDonough's (Classical Studies) Mythology class. (Photo by Justin Knight)
Recurring themes in the student plays have included divine messengers running on stage in Federal Express uniforms, and rocking Greek choruses.

"I find kids of the MTV generation have a real feel for dramatic imagery," said McDonough. "I really do think pageantry is 'it.'

"When students read Greek tragedy, I want them to have a sense of the spectacle and the ceremony of it all," he said. "Spectacle is when there's a line, and the audience is watching 'over there.' In ceremony, there is no line: All participate."

With its improvisational style, the class drama festival is "exactly the type of thing we want to happen with students," McDonough said. "They're interacting with the material, rather than writing it down in a notebook, putting it on a shelf and never looking at it again."

Among the plays tackled by students this semester were two by Euripides, "Medea" and "Hippolytus," that trump most anything offered by Hollywood today in the way of passion, revenge and the caprice of the gods.

"Medea" is a tale of a woman scorned, a sorceress cast off by her husband, the heroic Jason of Golden Fleece and Argonauts fame, so that he might wed a young princess of Corinth. The wronged enchantress, Medea, exacts a chilling revenge by murdering Jason's virgin bride-to-be as well as her own two sons by Jason so that he will have neither wife nor child. She escapes in the chariot of the sun god Helios before Jason can punish her for her deeds.

This story of a woman's oppression and revenge was presented by one student troupe as it might be on Lifetime, except with women and men playing each other's parts in a feminist examination of gender roles. Imagine a murderous diva as played by Carol Channing and you have Medea as portrayed by a blonde-wigged Ian Wells, '00.

Another troupe gave a case in point of the perils of live performance, as the death scene of the murdered princess Glauce was prolonged while the narrator tried valiantly to remember his lines. "She ran, and ran, and ran...and ran some more!" proclaimed sophomore Nathan Grade's memory-challenged Messenger as junior Amanda Matragrano's poisoned bride lapped her deathbed like a dying miler.

"Hippolytus" is another story of revenge, spurred by forbidden love in a royal menage a trois. Phaedra, wife of King Theseus of Athens, commits suicide over her infatuation with her stepson, Hippolytus. While the youthful Hippolytus is blameless in the affair, a grieving Theseus prays to the sea god, Poseidon, to kill his son. A bull rising from a great ocean wave frightens the horses pulling Hippolytus' chariot, and the youth is dragged and mortally wounded.

One student troupe last week saw in this tragedy the stuff of Mob drama, and presented a vignette inspired by "The Godfather" and "Pulp Fiction," with an assassin in shades named "Sammy the Bull" dispatched to run Hippolytus off the road. "It's not personal - it's only business," explained LSOE junior Elizabeth Walsh's hit-woman as she pulled the ill-fated youth played by Chris Tynan, '02, around Campion 300 by the ankle.

Cast members said they enjoyed the creative challenge presented by the assignment.

"We came up with the gangster theme collectively," said Frank Rizzo '00, who played the role of Don Theseus. "It seemed that the hierarchy of a crime family paralleled the unequal relationships between gods, kings and ordinary subjects in classical mythology."

"I think Professor McDonough's idea of acting out some of the scenes that we are studying in the class is great - nervousness aside," Rizzo said. "It really adds to the class' understanding and familiarity of the material."

In presenting "Hippolytus" with a "Godfather" spin, Tynan said, he was struck by the timelessness of the themes presented by the playwrights of ancient Greece.

"By acting out these plays, everyone in the class is able to experience them in a whole new dimension [not available] through merely reading them," he said.

As for being dragged across a classroom floor by the ankle in the name of art, Tynan said, "It was definitely an experience that I will not forget about my time at BC."

 

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