"All Our Tragic" is many things. A bold, galvanizing effort from adapter/director Sean Graney, this compilation of the 32 surviving Greek tragedies -- in its world premiere at The Hypocrites -- is an epic event in every sense.
Years in the making, Graney's theatrical marathon consists of four interconnected two-act plays that audiences can see over 12 hours -- including intermissions and meal breaks -- or in three-hour segments over four nights. "Physics" recalls the labors of Herakles and the agony of Medea. "Politics" examines efforts of a royal family to maintain power and stabilize Thebes, or at least maintain power. "Patriotics" centers on the Trojan War, a confrontation rooted in a lie, and "Poetics" addresses its aftermath.
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"All Our Tragic"★ ★ ★ ★
Location: The Hypocrites at The Den Theater, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, the-hypocrites.com
Showtimes: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (full show); 8 p.m. Fridays (parts 1 to 4 on each successive Friday) through Oct. 5; also 8 p.m. Mondays Sept. 8-29 (parts 1 to 4 on each successive Monday)
Running time: 12 hours, including intermissions and meal breaks
Tickets: $75, including meals on Saturday and Sunday; $30 Monday and Friday
Parking: Metered street parking
Rating: For teens and older; includes violence and sexual situations
A kinetic retelling of oft-told tales of love and betrayal, war and vengeance, duty and pride, "All Our Tragic" is contemporary, conversational and cannily crafted. It's also hugely entertaining.
In this intensely physical show, princesses use umbrellas to fend off cyclops and a ragtag band of dissidents battles government forces with blow dryers and vacuum cleaners. But when Greeks and Trojans battle, they wield broadswords. Their clashes unfold against a cacophonous soundscape, in agonizing slow motion that underscores combat's terrible toll.
Indeed war -- the sometimes contrived reasons behind it, the brutality that accompanies it and the devastation that results -- figures prominently here. So does the struggle for democracy, as well as the challenges with governing and the debate over what constitutes justice. The production also addresses personal accountability, fidelity and forgiveness. Last but not least, there is love and betrayal, and how quickly ardor can transform to vengeance.
The script could use some edits (the Medea-Menelaus shipwreck scene comes to mind). Some jokes are a bit precocious and the feel-good coda felt perfunctory, even unsatisfying. But those quibbles are minor.
Overall, it's briskly paced (no act exceeds 80 minutes) and creatively told. The mood can turn on a dime from comic to tragic, yet the scenes still feel authentic, which testifies to Graney's ability to balance humor and pathos.
Walter Briggs' dim but endearing Herakles, a victim to his empty quest for fame, reflects that humor, as does Maximillian Lapine's deliciously overdramatic necromancer Eurystheus.
The pathos is evidenced in the provocative debate about responsibility and allegiance between Ezekiel Sulkes' impassioned, conflicted Creon and Erin Barlow's luminous, unbowed Antigone. It's also apparent in a moving scene depicting the shared sorrow of the victor: Greek warrior Achilles (Luce Metrius) and the vanquished, the Trojan girl Polyxena, also played by Barlow.
Twenty-three tireless, talented actors make up the cast. Most of them play multiple roles. The doubling, another example of savvy storytelling, does two things. In the case of Herakles' wife Dejanira and Agememnon's wife Klytaimnestra (both played by Tien Doman), it suggests constancy. A fundamentally good woman, during a time of intense emotional pain, makes a terrible decision and catastrophe results. The doubling also suggests transformation, evidenced by the excellent Briggs' evolution from the unsophisticated but good-natured Herakles, to the thug Pentheus who uses force to silence political opponents, to the ruthless Agememnon who conquers a city and destroys the souls of its citizens.
The acting is solid throughout and in some cases exceptional. In addition to Sulkes, Barlow and Briggs, Dana Omar impresses as the ferocious, needy Medea. Christine Stulik's brittle, relentless Jocasta also deserves mention, as does Geoff Button, who plays the tormented Orestes, and fight choreographer Ryan Bourque, who channels Woody Allen as Lynceus.
Of course, no Greek tragedy is complete without a chorus. Singer/instrumentalists Erin Myers, Lauren Vogel and Kate Carson-Groner do the honors. Dressed as hotel maids and food service workers, these "Odd-Jobbers," as they are called, introduce the acts and provide musical counterpoint.
From power suits to Disney princess gowns, from ancient armor with a twist to sheep's clothing, Alison Siple's costumes are a visual delight, and they are deliciously illuminated by designer Jared Moore, who makes even sinister lighting pretty.
For theatergoers, "All Our Tragic" is a commitment. It is also an act of faith that their $75 and, more importantly, their time will be well-spent. Graney and company reward that faith. In reviving this ancient celebration, they take us to a place we've never been. They challenge our perceptions. And they leave us just a little wiser than we were.