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posted: 8/22/2014 5:45 AM

Evolution of an epic: Graney, cast discuss 'All Our Tragic'

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  • Herakles (Walter Briggs) meets the Seven Sisters in The Hypocrites' world premiere of "All Our Tragic," adapted by director Sean Graney from the 32 surviving Greek tragedies.

      Herakles (Walter Briggs) meets the Seven Sisters in The Hypocrites' world premiere of "All Our Tragic," adapted by director Sean Graney from the 32 surviving Greek tragedies.
    courtesy of Evan Hanover

  • Pursued by the Furies, the tormented Orestes (Geoff Button) takes his beloved cousin Hermione (Erin Barlow) hostage in "All Our Tragic," running through Oct. 5 at The Den Theatre in Chicago.

      Pursued by the Furies, the tormented Orestes (Geoff Button) takes his beloved cousin Hermione (Erin Barlow) hostage in "All Our Tragic," running through Oct. 5 at The Den Theatre in Chicago.
    courtesy of Evan Hanover

 
 

"All Our Tragic" is a labor of love.

At least it is for adapter/director Sean Graney, whose ambitious adaptation of the 32 surviving Greek tragedies opened earlier this month at a Chicago storefront theater.

Graney, founding artistic director of The Hypocrites, knew what awaited him. In 2011, he adapted Sophocles' seven surviving tragedies under the title "These Seven Sicknesses." Encouraged by the response to that show, he decided to take on the entire canon. It took him three years.

During that time, he workshopped the show with The Hypocrites and at institutions like the University of Chicago, Lake Forest College and Illinois State University. He also spent last year at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where he completed a 1,250-page draft, which he subsequently trimmed to about 900 pages.

"My goal was to make an event that would be satisfying to an audience," he said. "If I got bogged down in my own cleverness, it wasn't helpful to the whole."

Initially, Graney conceived the production as a three-day event, a Lollapalooza for theater lovers and an homage of sorts to the ancient festivals. Realizing such an event would never get produced, he scaled back the script to the bare essentials of the ancient stories.

The result unfolds over 12 hours -- with breaks. Audiences can see it in a day or spread it out over four weeks.

"I love these stories and I love my relationship to audiences. I ask them to spend 12 hours listening to these plays and they do," he said, the delight evident in his voice.

Pushing past his insecurity and self-doubt, he persevered. And when he finished, he approached The Hypocrites, his artistic home, with an invitation to stage it.

"I'm so glad I got to do it with the company I started and have a relationships with," he said.

For The Hypocrites, "All Our Tragic" is also a labor of love. From the start, company members embraced the project, said artistic director Halena Kays, who took over the position when Graney stepped down two years ago,

"If it was anyone other than Sean, you'd say this is crazy. No one will want to come. And it doesn't make any financial sense at all," said Kays. "But when Sean has an idea -- and they're usually big ideas -- he's almost always right and I've learned to trust them."

Ensemble members and artistic associates needed no persuading. They knew combining the tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides would make Chicago theater history. And they knew if they didn't participate, they'd regret it, Kays said.

"It's so different from anything I've ever done before," said Christopher James Bryant, a Libertyville native and 2014 Illinois State University graduate in his professional debut. Undaunted by the long rehearsals, rewrites and marathon performances, Bryant says the biggest challenge has been keeping up with Graney.

"To be able to do the work is a dream come true, especially right out of college," said Bryant, one of six Neo-Titans responsible for most of the show's extensive stage combat.

The camaraderie that resulted was truly amazing, Kays said.

"Artistically speaking," she said, "this was worth every risk we took."

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