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Our Big Fat Greek Play

Our Big Fat Greek Play

It’s all Greek to George Harrison, and that’s just the way he likes it. In fact, the classics professor likes studying the ancient culture so much that he hosted a colloquium of international scholars in February specifically to discuss the satyr play Cyclops.

He also did his own translation of the Euripides play for the Xavier Players to perform, and performing arts director Cathy Springfield brought in three Bulgarian artists to produce and direct the play’s staging.

The marriage of stage and scholarship is quite natural, says Springfield. “Theater is the lab for academics. It’s where they see what they’ve been talking about.”

The event began when Greek scholars from the United States, Canada, Holland, Israel and New Zealand gathered on campus to talk, think and write on the subject. The papers they wrote about the event, along with papers submitted by scholars who couldn’t attend the colloquium, are being published later this year by Duckworth Publishing of London.

“I wanted to bring together 10 of the leading scholars on Cyclops to see the state of scholarship and explore new directions of the play,” says Harrison. “As far as I can tell, it hasn’t been staged anywhere in at least 10 years. Because it’s not staged very often, there’s not much scholarly writing on it. It’s been ignored. The book will be an indication of where scholarship is on this play. It’ll be up-to-date and ahead of the curve.”

The play’s visiting trio— director Peter Karapetkov, music composer Petar Radevski, and set and costume designer Boryana Kostadinova Semerdjieva—brought an authentic ethnic flavor to the event. The three artists are from Bulgaria, which was once part of ancient Macedonia where the play was originally written.

“Musically and emotionally the play is a reunion for them because it’s pulling on some of the same cultural traditions,” says Harrison.

“A good way to do theater,” says Karapetkov, “is to incorporate people’s everyday lives within the accepted text. The play resembles a lot of things that strangely enough we’re dealing with now. It presents an opportunity to look at how we define what is good and bad.

“Odysseus is nothing but a walking bully from Texas who determines who is right or wrong and says, ‘Don’t understand it, just kill it.’ Whenever it’s convenient for us, the good is from our perspective.”

“It’s interesting to have this connection to Eastern Europe,” says Springfield. “It gives us a broader worldview. I think the ideas these artists have brought with them have given Xavier an élan, a sensibility that says ‘theater of conscience.’ People will look to Xavier as a place brave enough to put on these kinds of plays.”

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