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ISSUE 120 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/14/2007

Ancient play speaks to modern politics

By David Benson-Staebler
Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Incense, the five-degree rake stage and ancient rhetoric against military big-headedness make “"The Persians"” worth seeing. Last weekend the Theater Department's Interim project commenced with very sexy dress, pounding shafts of discontent and a blood-smearing degradation of Xerxes, played by Josh Vogen '’07.

"Ellen McLaughlin’'s adaptation of Aeschylus's expository play “was done in reaction to the invasion of Iraq,"” said Artist in Residence and Artistic Director Gary Gisselman, who directed the production. “"That's certainly the reason it was done. But it's not a one-to-one comparison [with the present administration],”" he said. “"The students here would have been disappointed if it were a political scream.”"

The plot of the play, which primarily consists of waiting and hearing and agonizing about defeat, was difficult to bring to life. “"I've never done a Greek play before,"” Gisselman said. “"The cast was terrifically helpful in figuring out how to do it." Gisselman also directs at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, and said it is “not different at all” than directing at St. Olaf. He was impressed by the ingenuity of both the Oles and non-Oles who worked on the production. "Imagining a version at the Guthrie," he said, "“the show looks good for the budget we had.”"

Jake Mahler '’07 played a soldier who survives the Athenians’ punishing and arrives home to herald the defeat. The stage anticipated the moment of Mahler's entrance at Friday and Saturday's performances. "“Not thinking about work [and] not bringing yourself… [is crucial to] be honest to your character,"” Mahler said. Mahler illustrates the gruesome deaths of his brave compatriots and evokes the shock of an earthquake-like defeat, so large it deflates 9-11.

A green mushroom cloud of gas, Queen Atossa'’s (Franny Gustafson '‘07) singing and a strobe light rouse the timely ghost-king from Persia’s past, Darius, played by Dave Wagner '‘03, a Community Assistant in Rand Hall. Sound Designer Michael Banks ‘'08 said of Wagner, “"He [really] has the vocal power to be a king.”"

Banks'’ programming and sound effects enhanced the original music score, composed by Charlie Morgan '’07, which included the accompaniment of trumpet, cello, oboe and percussion throughout. Morgan'’s jazzy muted-trumpet accompaniment of Queen Atossa’'s dream was transporting.

“"The score underpinned the emotions rather than the actions without being thematic,”" said Luke Varland ‘'08, who attended the Friday performance. “"[Morgan] didn'’t try to superimpose extra material onto the plot. He didn't try to turn it into an opera, which was good. The music simply gave voice to the psychology, or rather, the psyches of the different characters." ” Katherine Olson ’'06 called the performance “"a multilayered production that unified aural, tactile and visual effects.”"

Performances this week are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Kelsey Theater.

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