On April 19, 21, and 22, 2016, the Classics Department’s scrappy, happy-go-lucky, student- and community-based Greek Theater Group again brought ancient Greek drama to the Montclair University Amphitheater, in three performances of Euripides’ Andromache, danced, sung, and acted in the open air all three afternoons, to audiences ranging from 100-200 each day. This year’s performance included eight full songs and dance numbers, with music played and sung live. Some celebrities were glimpsed in the crowd… and the translator whose text was used, Diane Arnson Svarlien, made a special trip up from her home in Kentucky to be present at the first performance, which is also the world premiere of her translation of the play; she stayed afterwards to sign books and talk with audience and community members.
Euripides’ Andromache, set a generation after the Trojan War but still under its shadow, shows us the war’s messy aftermath in Phthia, the southernmost region of ancient Thessaly, on both sides of Othrys Mountain and Pharsalus, and close to the shore of the Aegean Sea. Phthia is the homeland of Achilles and his family, and an area under the strong influence of the sea goddess Thetis, Achilles’ mother: characters include HERMIONE (played by Gina McCrostie, MSU senior who played Pentheus in last year’s production of Bacchae; the impetuous, Sparta-educated daughter of the infamous Helen of Troy, now wife of Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus), ANDROMACHE herself (played by Julia Montalvo, a talented actor and singer and MSU first-year student; Andromache is at this point now the concubine of the same Neoptolemus), the aged hero PELEUS (played alternately by professors Christopher Parker and Jan Verstraete; father of Achilles, and so grandfather-in-law of Andromache), bad guy MENELAUS (played by Daniel Salazar, whiz-kid MSU polymath student of many majors and minors including Classics; husband of Helen, father of Hermione), ORESTES (yes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, matricide, and – as it turns out – former suitor of Hermione! played dashingly by Vin Verducci, first year MSU student), and the sea goddess THETIS (played by the divine Tiffani Star Waters, graduating MSU senior; Nereid mother of Achilles and wife of Peleus). The CHORUS (first year MSU student and accomplished singer Alexandra Grasso, MSU student and Latinist Melanie Garzon, and MSU librarian and Indian dance practitioner Rajula Joshi) represents the WOMEN OF PHTHIA, but also, in our production, embody the sea-nymphs or NEREIDS that accompany Thetis, and are sent by her eventually to bring her mortal husband Peleus into immortality. Melanie Garzon and Alexandra Grasso also played, in addition to their virtuosic choral dancing and singing for the entire length of the play, additional roles as the servant (ARETE) and nurse (ALETHEIA) respectively of Andromache and Hermione. The beautiful and evocative sea-themed set, and the Shield of Achilles (which remained onstage as a kind of reminder of the family’s past tragedies), were designed and painted by Christl Stringer, MSU student in Theater and Art. The music was played onstage by Monika Szumski, accomplished flute student in the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State, and Vin Verducci (percussion). Costumes were designed specially for the performance by a first-year student, Damien Piñero, with help by Andy Bravo, MSU grad working as professional costumier in local NY and NJ theaters right now. The tech crew included Theater students Rashidah Nelson, Rupa Mitra, and Daisha Sanders, and the Stage Manager was Theater grad student Robert Getz. Jeri Fogel, who teaches in Classics, directed the show.
Euripides is often praised for the sympathy he demonstrates toward the downtrodden, especially victims of war, and social stigma. Many of his plays present heroines and heroes who, although ostensibly from the heroic past, are dealing with what his fellow Athenians might have considered “contemporary” problems. He has a knack for bringing humanity and empathy to bear on the characters thrown up by the mythological tradition–he treats them as real men and women, and brings out many facets of their personalities. His choruses sing about the destruction caused by war, about human pain, about the puzzling and horrifying ways that the gods toy with and torture humans, and about the beauty that humans can sometimes find in the world around them regardless. Euripides does not present us with heroes and villains, nor does he offer clear-cut solutions.
In Andromache, he shows us the horrifying flip-side of a “heroic” war: the death and destruction do not stop when the war is over, but continue to warp and torture the next generation as well. The play was proudly sponsored by the MSU Department of Classics and General Humanities, in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and was produced with the generous help of the MSU School of Communication and Media, whose talented students Nick Mastalesz (graduating from the Television/Digital Media program with a concentration in Sound Design, ’16) and Rachel Polak, with help also from AJ Wash, designed and carried out our sound, Kasser Theater, who lent us experienced tech advice and their high tech speakers, and especially the MSU Department of Theater and Dance, who helped us out by making available to us rehearsal space, helping us with wardrobe and costuming, generously giving advice on set design, supporting us with their Shop work, and in so many other ways.
T-shirts ($5) and programs from the play itself are still available by contacting Jeri Fogel at email@example.com. There will also be a DVD released soon, which will be available FREE to anyone who would like a copy. This is the group’s third production, in what they are hoping has taken hold as an annual event; all DVDs and programs are being sent for archiving to the Oxford-based Archive of Performances of Greek and Roman Drama (http://www.apgrd.ox.ac.uk ) , and you can find out more about the various ways in which the modern world has been staging Greek and Roman plays at their website.
Next year’s play is still being determined… if you would like to get involved in any way, please contact Jeri (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get on our mailing list! All aspects of the production are open to the entire campus and larger community, so just do it. 🙂