Note: This review was posted on the KC Stage review system. Seven Against Thebes was the latest foray into KC Stage Live!, a ‘play-watching’ club in the vein of book clubs, where we will pick a show every few months to have people attend and then discuss afterwards.
Seven Against Thebes, written by Aeschyus; directed by Earnest Williams. Produced by Gorilla Theatre Productions (Kansas City). First produced 467 BCE. (Seen July 9, 2011)
I am not a morning person. At all. I’m also not much for the summer heat. But for three years running (and for a few years sporadically before that), I have willingly gotten up early in order to attend the Gorilla’s annual summer Greek show.
Like that other royalty-free summer show offered annually, it helps to know the story beforehand before venturing into the performance, as in today’s short-attention span world it’s hard to follow the plot if you’re not at least familiar with it.
First staged in 467 BC, Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes is the third in an Oedipus-themed trilogy. In the wake of Oedipus blinding himself, his two sons (Eteocles and Polynices) agreed to rule Thebes alternately. However, Eteocles refuses to step down, and Polynices raises an army as a result. And this is where the audience comes in.
Wikipedia’s entry on the play states, “There is little plot as such; instead, the bulk of the play consists of rich dialogues that show how the citizens of Thebes feel about the threat of the hostile army before their gates, and also how their king Eteocles feels and thinks about it.”
The pacing in the first part of the piece was good, although it drags a bit in places, especially toward the end. And that’s really my only complaint against this year’s production. I consider myself a fairly literate person, but with the heat becoming uncomfortable after the sun came up and a 90 minute running time without intermission, I found myself squirming (partly due to the soda and water I had) by the end, ready for it to be over. The long curtain call at the end didn’t help matters, as it seemed to drag on.
However, the translation was well done. Kudos especially to the sound system this year: it was awesome and effective, with booming thunder and the sounds of war infiltrating the production. On top of that, the projection (both on the side of the actors themselves and the microphone system) was top-notch, and I only lost one or two pieces of dialogue throughout.
The chorus was spot on this year, with a good individual/group balance, and there was an effective piece in the second half where one becomes many becomes all.
Zack Chaykin as the spy had a tough part, as he is the one who has to describe the seven warriors that need to be fought by the various champions of Thebes. He did a good job of being a storyteller, making each description a tale with accompanying voices — and made the somewhat repetitious send-up as entertaining as possible.
Special note needs to go BJ Allen as Eteocles. This undoubtedly is the most difficult part of the production, and would make or break the show depending on who was cast. Allen did an outstanding job with presence to spare, never faltering in his presentation. His bio says he’s a senior at UMKC: he’s definitely someone you want to keep an eye out for.
In terms of directing, the choice of using modern dress was effective, as well as the use of the steps of the Nelson, making each movement mean something. However, there were too many times in my opinion that the actors were talking out to the audience when they needed to be talking to each other. It didn’t really play for me, as I felt it went against the directorial choice of modernizing the dress and much of the dialogue.
Seven Against Thebes has one more performance tonight at 7 pm. It’s almost worth the heat, so check it out.