Through Nov. 19
Hollywood Theatre, 2815 Johnson St. NE, Mpls
21st century playwrights Laura Leffler-McCabe and Blake E. Bolan, both women, have adapted (with input from their Savage Umbrella cast), Aeschylus’s The Suppliants. The military commander who emerged as the Father of Drama is best known for The Oresteia, which to some earned him the label ‘misogynist’.
However, Savage Umbrella has us consider a more nuanced look at perhaps what may be the undercurrent of the great tragic dramatist. The story involves a patriarch, Danaus (a spookily charismatic Scott Keely) who lives in an isolated region with his 50 daughters. He’s the only man they’ve ever known. It is Danaus who deliberately implants the fear of men in their psyches from day one and so never having to even encounter other males, they can know nothing about them but what their father hyperbolizes. Therefore, when the time come for them to marry the 50 sons of Aegyptus (a vibrant Bob Hammel), the brother of Danaus -a mass marriage the two men had long ago pre-arranged- the girls are plagued with phobias about the men behaving ‘like wolves’.
In the first third of this spectral production the implantation and internalization of the bigotry against men by a supremely patriarchal male is ritualistically theatricalized by the actors and actresses playing the girls as they go about daily incantations and practical actions like eating, in unison. All this in order to subjugate them to the father’s will and to ‘honor thy father’.
Where the acting transcends is when mass marriage becomes mass murder. The various wedding night murder scenes have been staged by Bolan (who also directed the show) not only in the cavernous and decrepit Hollywood Theatre space but in parts of its lobby where ushers guide the audience. Every single performance in the piece is superb but these murder/sex scenes are particularly tragic and the insight with which they’re portrayed is utterly heartbreaking. Kathryn Fumie as Amymone kills her new husband Midanus played by Paul Rutledge, right after a lovely orgasm that ought to have bonded them! But in doing her father’s bidding, she kills him immediately and essentially murders her own soul. Ben Egerman plays a boy/youth who one gets the feeling just isn’t attracted to women, and his behavior seems to reflect that in the bedroom. When Polyxena (Jami Jerome) murders her Itonomus (Russ Dugger), we see the doubts within her as he so gently and timidly approaches her. Emily Dussault infuses Arcadia with a paranoid sense that actually surpasses her sisters’ paranoia, and when her intelligent Xanthus (Adam Scarpello) tries to bridge the gap, she loses what little grasp of reality her father had managed not to psychologically rape. Indeed, it’s the father’s hatred of men, not woman’s hatred of men, that butchers what are innocent and defenseless boys. Leffler-McCabe and Bolan have us ask if gender hatred might sometimes be caused by conditioning from a parent’s un-dealt with gender retaliation tendencies. So might we inherit our gender prejudices?
This ingenious and hauntingly evocative production benefits from an ethereal sound design by Elliot Durko Lynch. Sonya Berlovitz’s perfectly simple costumes are snatched right out of a dream. How remarkable that two women playwrights in rethinking Aeschylus make us reflect on the irony or paradox of a patriarch possibly being the originator of both women’s hatred for men and of erotophobia itself.