We Love Arts: Ion

Photo courtesy of shakespearetheatreco

courtesy of shakespearetheatreco

Yes, there are puppets. More on that later.

I chose the above picture out of STC’s flickr stream to give you some idea about some of the unusual choices that director Ethan McSweeny takes in adapting this Euripides play. The caption for the above photo is Patricia Santomasso in rehearsal for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Ion” And she’s not rehearsing a post-death pose – that’s from a period when her character, a member of the chorus, is sunning herself on a rock. At the temple of Delphi. Since she and the other handmaidens are dressed and behave like crass American tourists on vacation.

As Dave Barry would say, I Am Not Making This Up.For all its oddity – or perhaps because of it – Ion is a good time and I recommend it. This is not any Greek play you ever read in school. The story unfolds almost identically to how it’s described in the Wikipedia entry for Ion, excepting an irrelevant role reversal at the climax, but the fun in this play is almost irrelevant to the plot. You can make your own decision about whether that’s a bad thing, but to my mind it’s forgivable. I’ve got no idea how you’d make the conundrum of whether the gods are reliable sources of interest to a modern audience.

What we get instead is a romp, if you can apply that term to attempted murder, lying deities, scheming, and puppet rape and infanticide.

Oh right – I promised to tell you about the puppets.

I’m skeptical about puppets in theater – Avenue Q aside – but it’s a near-brilliant choice here. Hermes speaks directly to the audience at the beginning, letting us in on the facts of Ion’s life that neither he or his mother are fully aware of. Using puppets allows us some visualization beyond a dry recitation of facts, but maintains some separation from Creusa’s assault and her subsequent decision to abandon her infant son. It’s an effective way to keep the tone light in this “Greek tragedy with a happy ending.”

Happily, the puppets do their part and clear the room. Once they’re gone we stay in the same set for the whole play, without intermission. The majority of the actors similarly spend all their time on stage. Keith Eric Chappelle rarely gets a break from being Ion and Creusa’s handmaidens, acting as the crass chorus, are always underfoot. While it’s surely exhausting for them it makes for some great smiles. Kate Debelack gets to hand another character a book on Greek mythology during his exposition about the actions of the gods and Santomasso beams her gleeful attention across the stage while another character confesses their sordid past.

I don’t know if you can even call them anachronisms when they’re so omnipresent; Chapelle is in a tunic and Xuthus in a suit, the handmaidens look like a Panama Jack threw up on them. Perhaps the classic elements are the exception. Either way, it demands you pay attention and rewards you for doing so.

Go give it a shot. Ion, even though it’s 2,000 years older than most of what STC puts on, might just be the most accessible and crowd-pleasing thing to run in the Harman this year.

Ion, directed by Ethan McSweeny
at the Shakespeare Theater Company‘s Harman Center
610 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20004-2207

runs from Mar 10, 2009 through  April 12, 2009

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


One thought on “We Love Arts: Ion

  1. “The majority of the actors similarly spend all their time on stage.”

    Huh? Only the Chorus does that (pretty typical for a Greek play, in fact). In fact, some actors only make one appearance! Of course, I only take umbrage with this since I am one of those who never leave. Glad you liked the show, and I hope more WLDC readers come see it. It’s not like “Ion” makes an appearance every few years.