A production which evokes Dionysiac festival and the regeneration of nature in its full fruitiness and obscenity. Performed in Douglass Parker's exuberant new translation; with dances and songs in English.
A note from the Translator... (for the first performance in Texas)
Peace, it's wonderful!
The trouble is, it doesn't always last...
But that's a different question than we treat here tonight, this very upbeat night. We are the far western branch of THIASOS (or Revel, or Spree, or even possibly Jamboree), a theatrical company based in Athens and London, devoted to the revivification of Greek Drama, putting on for your edification and entertainment the EIRENE, the Peace, of Aristophanes, a comedy performed in Athens in the early spring of 421BC. A comedy which celebrates the end of the Peloponnesian War.
Those of you who know something about the Peloponnesian War may be a bit puzzled here. After all, the war between Athens-&-allies is down in the books as running from 431 to 404; yet here is a play 17 years earlier celebrating its end. Is this, as in other Aristophanic peace-plays, just a vain optimism, hoping that the Poet of the Theatre, against possibility and probability? The answer is, actually, NO. The war had been going on for ten years when Peace was presented; most of both sides were pretty sick of it. Just as important, the leading hawks in conflict -- Brasidas of Sparta and Cleon of Athens -- had been terminal casualties at the battle of Amphipolis, in the far north, the summer before, and very tortuous peace negotiations between the two states had been in progress ever since. But now, without the hawks, a peace was concluded... shortly after the performance of this play. (The "peace of Nicias", for those who care.) The play we're presenting tonight.
A word or two about the presentation: considerations of space and time have compelled us to omit those bits, and more than bits, that refer directly to the War. And this production, after all, is to be relevant (remember the word?) to Americans dwelling in Texas on the 9th and 10th of April, 2001 A.D. So, you won't see WAR.
We're not going to show WAR -- that is, the god Polemos -- here. It would only disturb you, residents in a happy land which is positively suffused with Peace. I mean, the last Official War we had was more than a half-century ago. What possible connection could Athens have with this our blessed plot, etc.?
To summarize: Polemos and his idiot henchman, Humungous Din, are trying to cook up a new batch of WAR. They have all the ingredients -- the revolting states with ingrained wrongs -- and, to mix it in, a huge mortar. (This would be Brasidas the Spartan, even though he is dead. Poetic License.) But the pestle, which of course does all the mixing, is nowhere to be found. To put another way: the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle -- but the best pestle was the jingo Athenian general Cleon... and he's dead too. Time, then, is ripe for making an all-out effort at PEACE.
And that's what you're going to see. You won't behold the god Hermes' complete harangue on the causes of WAR. You won't encounter the unprincipled profiteers, religious and secular, who try, with complete futility, to cut themselves in on a slice of quite tangible goodies of PEACE. Nor the little boy who insists on singing WAR songs. What you will see is the explosion of JOY, lyric and otherwise, at the coming of PEACE to Athens that spring of 421. We show it as one easy glide. Like this:
The goddess PEACE, as it happens, has been thrust by the departing gods (who've quit and decamped) into an oubliette -- a large hole -- somewhere -- and covered over with rocks. But our vintner, Trygaios, a really remarkable persuader, convinces the god Hermes that he should help mortals get her out of her fix, and thus restore Peace to Greece. (Symbols, personifications, they're the lifeblood of comedy.) This leads to the summoning of the Chorus.
Who is, or Who are, this Chorus? It will quickly become evident to you that they are aged Athenian farmers. Male farmers. I mention this, not out of chauvinism, but because this production features an Equal Opportunity Chorus. To the Athenian practice of all-male Choruses (which sometimes results in men playing women playing men), we have said Pah! and opened the ranks to both genders. Therefore, I counsel you to look attentively. In this play, the characters played by the Chorus are ALL MALE, but the keen observer may discern, beneath the obfuscation of costume and sheer acting skill, the lineaments of Women!, of which there is a small proportion amongst our choristers... rather upwards of ninety percent. Thus does Western Civilization progress.
So, we've taken the unpleasant bits out, and sweetened our offering, so that you can encounter the success story of a displaced farmer named TRYGAIOS, whose name means "vine-dresser", that is, the one who prunes the vine-plants and thus fosters fertility of all sorts. And I do mean fertility. Aristophanes' approach to Peace is, shall we term it, basic, even material. He sees it in terms of food, wine, and sex. Especially, in this play, food. We will see Trygaios rise up to attain Peace, and maintain and develop it. In a way, he does this backwards; an alternative title for the play might well be UP the alimentary Canal for Fun and Profit. Remember: UP!
You will see what I mean, and very possibly smell what I mean, quite quickly.