When a play can get the job done in an hour and not short-change the audience in terms of character, language, or story, I’d say we have a winning combination. A local writer has written such a play and if you missed it last July, you have one more week to get to Silver Spring to experience this new twist on an ancient character.
Stephen Spotswood, a DC-based playwright, revisits the blind soothsayer from Oedipus Rex, Antigone and other Greek tales in his new play We Tiresias. The play is being seen in its first production outside the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival, where it earned the title of ‘Best Drama.’ Forum Theatre presents it in a special limited engagement at Round House, Silver Spring, through January 13.
I am sorry I missed the run during the Fringe Festival but I am very glad I saw the show in Silver Spring. We Tiresias fully engages the audience from start or finish with deceptively simple staging. Spotswood’s script displays a raw poeticism, vivid imagery which comes to life in the hands of three strong performers.
In a neutral watering hole, a blind man shuffles onto the stage so unobtrusively the audience barely realizes the play has begun. White-cane in hand, the old man takes a seat and begins nursing a whisky. Soon, a confident young woman comes on the scene, pours herself a glass of wine and joins the old man. Finally, a fresh-faced young man grabs a beer as he enters and sits with the others.
Young man, old man and woman – they are all Tiresias. They come together in an undetermined, existentialist plain to recount their own epic story, a tale filled with pleasure and pain, sex and violence. It is his own tale, and in Spotswood’s reimagining it is one that rivals other mythic heroes, where humans are toys of capricious gods and escaping their whims is not so easily accomplished.
Spotswood takes as his inspiration the character mentioned in literature from ancient Greece, from Sophocles to Homer. Tiresias gains his gift of augury at a young age, lived at least seven years as a woman, and became a man once again, only to lose his eyesight. We Tiresias jumps off from the basic story into new directions where we follow the three faces of Tiresias through good times and bad. “Tragedy can sometimes be a funny thing,” states the older Tiresias. The script balances the tragic with the comic and even finds room in the brief running time for several elements of surprise, a testament to Spotswood’s inventiveness.
We see the impressionable boy, walking with his mother, first discovering his gift of divination. He grows into a young man, lusting after one of Hera’s virgins and pays a heavy price. We learn how he is transformed into a woman and even mothers a child before finding his manhood once again. Tiresias eventually comes to view his second sight as a curse, one far greater than the other curses hurled at him by the gods.
Matt Ripa, who directed the Capital Fringe premiere, returns to helm this special engagement for Forum. He stages We Tiresias with cinematic ease and clever stagecraft. A couple of tables, chairs, barstools and some flickering votives are the basic elements used to create Tiresias’ past and present world. Without revealing too much, let me just say that I am a sucker for the creative use of props and We Tiresias has a number of “Ah-ha!” moments that were completely satisfying, clever and served to enhance the storytelling.
The work of Ripa’s lighting designer Kevin Boyce quietly accents the simple theatre space and the actors. There is no costume designer listed in the program, but the wardrobe for each side of Tiresias works well to further define their individuality – the gently worn look of the older man; a clean suit for the younger; and a rocker-chick chic for the woman.
The actors representing the soothsayer’s personae, who represent other characters as well, are perfectly cast. As three sides of one person, their symbiotic relationship makes for compelling theatre.
Closes January 13, 2013
Round House Theatre – Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, MD
1 hour, 10 minutes without intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Chris Stinson (Capital Fringe and Alex in Scena Theatre’s recent A Clockwork Orange) is the ‘boy’ Tiresias. Stinson’s earnestness gives off a naïveté balanced with a developing maturity. Melissa Marie Hmelnicky (Capital Fringe and Keegan’s The Importance of Being Earnest) radiates a confident and sensual air as the female Tiresias. Hmelnicky shows the soothsayer perhaps at the peak of “her” life and powers.
As the old man Tiresias, William Aitken (Keegan’s Glengarry Glen Ross) seems right at home as the cynical, bitter blind man who is ready to give up, until his counterparts convince him to do some more storytelling. (In the Capital Fringe production, Steve Beall played the role.)
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” so says the quote attributed to the classical Athenian philosopher Socrates. In Stephen Spotswood’s We Tiresias the worthy life of a legendary Theban prophet is being examined for a new generation of theatergoers.
We Tiresias by Stephen Spotswood. Directed by Matt Ripa. Cast: Melissa Hmelnicky, Chris Stinson, William Aitken. Produced by Forum Theatre. Reviewed by Jeff Walker.