"Persians, a new translation by the American scholar and poet Aaron Poochigian, does a fine job maintaining the gravitas of Greek tragedy with just enough contemporary rhythm and idiom to allow the ancient work to work for a modern audience."
David Zampati, Theater Critic
DAVID ZAMPATTI, The West Australian February 16, 2012, 12:15 pm
Happy Dagger/Little y
PICA Performance Space
It's impossible to overstate the importance of Aeschylus' The Persians, the tragedy of the rout of the navy and army of Xerxes the Great by the Greeks at Salamis.
The oldest surviving play, it gives us the first insight into the consciousness of mankind as expressed by theatre. Told by an exact contemporary (Aeschylus fought at both Salamis and, some years earlier, the epochal battle of Marathon) it is also the first surviving example of drama's unique ability to frame events and personalities.
It may also be the first surviving example of propaganda, and a particularly sophisticated one at that. When the ghost of Darius tells the grieving Persian court "never send an army against the Greeks", Aeschylus is sending a warning directly to his contemporaries, including, no doubt, Xerxes himself, who was to live for seven years after the play was first performed in 472 BC and whose empire would remain a threat to Greece for over a century more.
There's no denying, too, that as the eyes of the world turn anxiously to the most recent inheritors of Xerxes' domain - and, ironically and for different reasons, to his Greek enemies - the chroniclers and dramatisers of ancient empires and the conduct of their affairs hold a distant mirror to us and our times.
Persians, a new translation by the American scholar and poet Aaron Poochigian, does a fine job maintaining the gravitas of Greek tragedy with just enough contemporary rhythm and idiom to allow the ancient work to work for a modern audience.
It's refreshing to see a group of mostly young actors taking on a work like this away from the halls of academia, and I'm happy to report that their Persians is fresh, insightful and, in large part, well executed.
I suspect teachers of Greek tragedy might grumble at the accuracy and tone of the chorus, and it's only fair to say it does become a little ragged and shrill as the play progresses, but I think that's more a quibble than a legitimate complaint.
To my mind, director Andrew Hale has done well to give each character, and especially the younger women of the chorus, a life and personality of their own, and if that comes at the expense of some precision and poetic heft, it's a price worth paying. The lead performers, especially Christie Sistrunk as Atossa the Queen Mother, and Austin Castiglione as the messenger who brings the awful news to Persepolis, were likewise nuanced and effective.
The set was an inspiration - 7000 green plastic soldiers arrayed in ranks across the floor that were progressively cut down and piled in mounds like fallen leaves or slaughtered warriors as the tragic events unfolded. The piles formed and reformed, at one point making a map of the Aegean over which the history for which it was the stage and purpose was told.
I can't resist a final word about the Herculean Joe Lui, whose lighting design gave terrific focus and drama to the staging, and enhanced by the moody musical accompaniment composed by Adam Burges.
To cap things off, Lui's firm but kindly intervention cut short a gentleman who had taken the opportunity to invade the stage during the curtain call and launch into an epic tale of the Persian Empire of his own devising. Lui is a Wonder of the World.
Persians ends on Sunday.