From Leigh Valley
Moravian College works with Touchstone Theatre
School receives outside assistance to stage Roman version of classic tragedy “Oedipus.”
Saturday, March 28, 2009
By ADAM RICHTER
Christopher Shorr thinks the nation could use a healthy dose of Roman theater.
Shorr, a visiting assistant professor of English at Moravian College who runs the school’s theater department, says the visceral nature of Roman drama helped guide his decision to have his students perform “Oedipus” by Seneca.
The Greek “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles, is the more famous play. But Shorr wanted to produce Seneca’s later version, because he wanted to challenge his students and because he thought the timing seemed right.
“Maybe America is ready for some Roman tragedy,” says Shorr. “There are things that are happening in our society that show that we’re not as young and optimistic as we once were, and as the Greeks once were.”
“Oedipus” opens Thursday at Moravian College’s Arena Theater and runs through April 5. The Moravian College Theatre Company is producing the play, in conjunction with Touchstone Theatre.
Romans borrowed a great deal of their culture from the Greeks, adding their own cultural twist. So instead of Zeus, the Romans had Jupiter. And they may not have changed the name of “Oedipus,” or the central storyline — a man tries to avoid his fate of killing his father and marrying his mother and ends up doing just that — but Shorr points out some key differences.
For one thing, there’s a lot more blood.
“One of the major differences bet Greek tragedy and Roman tragedy, in general, is that in Greek tragedy more violence happens offstage, whereas in Roman tragedy the violence happens onstage,” Shorr says.
This creates subtle changes in the plot, too. (Spoiler alert.) In Sophocles’ play, Oedipus blinds himself (offstage) after his wife/mother, Jocasta, commits suicide. In the Roman version, Jocasta discovers her son already blinded, and stabs herself, onstage.
Shorr reached out to Touchstone Theatre for help with staging “Oedipus.” A former Virginia resident, Shorr says he knew of the South Bethlehem theater company’s reputation before he moved to the Lehigh Valley. Touchstone ensemble member James Jordan says the troupe had not collaborated with Moravian before, and the opportunity seemed right.
Jordan consulted on the technical aspects of “Oedipus,” pushing the students to come up with creative solutions to the problems of Seneca’s play. They responded well, Jordan says.
“I’ve been amazed at some of the students and their willingness to immerse themselves in the work,” he says. “It’s neat to … pass the torch and give them the knowledge.”
Shorr says the collaboration with Touchstone was a success, and made sense from the start.
“Because the theater program is very small, we don’t have a faculty of acting teachers and directing teachers and designing teachers … we just have me,” he says.
Jordan agrees: “It’s just this perfect match, and such a fulfilling experience,” he says.
“Oedipus” stars Moravian College student Jason Ginther in the title role, student Becky Kolacki as Jocasta and professor Christopher Jones as Creon. Because of the play’s violence and mature themes, it is not suitable for children.
Adam Richter can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.