Greek theater often touched on two genres of dramas, tragedy and comedy. Oftentimes, the Greek comedies were satirical and mocked those in power. The tragedies, on the other hand, were written to comment on social policy or the consequences of one’s actions. This week, Weber State University offers a selection from both genres for students, faculty and the community.
The two plays, The Wasps and Antigone, are both centered on the theme of power abuse and politics.
“We still find ourselves talking about ‘where is real justice?’” said Caril Jennings, marketing director for the WSU department of performing arts. “You know, how do our laws apply? What is a just law? Even though these people were living 2,500 years ago, we find ourselves still having these same kinds of issues about all kind of things in society. Where is your duty: to the law, to your family, to custom, tradition?”
Aristophanes’ The Wasps, the comedy in this instance, will be presented as a reader’s theater on Tuesday, Sept. 18. The free performance begins at 1:30 p.m. in the Hetzel-Hoellein Room of Special Collections in the Stewart Library.
In this play, Aristophanes ridicules the Athenian law courts. Many of Aristophanes’ plays make fun of Cleon, an Athenian statesman. The Wasps, however, is centered around comedic bits and jokes about local personalities from the times and the shortcomings of the Athenian court system, which provided Cleon with his power.
“Wasps is over-the-top comedy,” Jennings said. “It’s meant for adults. There’s bound to be sexual innuendo. The thing about Greek comedy is it’s rude and crude and lewd. If you understand that going in, then you won’t be shocked. Even though we are not playing it physically, because we are doing it as reader’s theater, it won’t be as alarming as it might be.”
This year marks the 13th anniversary of the WSU Greek Reader’s Theater and the 12th of Aristophanes’ comedies being performed. Over the years of coordinating this event, producer Jennings has made it a goal to finish the Aristophanes’ comedy series. The Wasps is the last of the comedies in the series. Jennings said she plans to begin recycling the Aristophanes scripts beginning next year.
“The irony or synchronicity about this that I think is pretty interesting is that the last play of Aristophanes that we’re doing is about the law, coincides with Antigone,” Jennings said. “We had no idea that it was going to happen. So it was meant to be.”
To contrast the Greek comedy, WSU will also be presenting the tragedy Antigone by Sophocles on Wednesday, Sept. 19. This performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Wildcat Theater in the Shepherd Union Building. Seating is limited to 220. Tickets are $9 or $12 and may be purchased in advance through Dee Events Center Tickets or at the ticket office on Sept. 19.
The play is the story of a young woman named Antigone, who risks her own life by defying Creon, ruler of Thebes, in order to defend her brother’s honor. The performance will feature original choreography by Darlene Casanova and an American translation by Marianne McDonald.
Before the performance, Jim Svendsen, a professor of language from the University of Utah, will introduce Antigone with an “info-tainment” lecture about the play and Greek theater. The lecture will take place in the Shepherd Union Fireplace Lounge at 6:30 p.m. and is free.
“He’s a very dynamic speaker,” Jennings said. “He knows this culture inside-out and he loves it. So he’s on fire with enthusiasm, so if you’re sitting in the audience listening to him speak, it’s contagious. But he assumes you know nothing about Greek culture, that you know nothing about the story, and in the 40 minutes that he takes, he tells you everything that you need to know about the play.”