Preview: BLOOD LINE:
The Oedipus/Antigone Story
Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1999
Few people would imagine that the translation of ancient
Greek drama was a field for which there was either career
growth for the translator or much demand from the customer.
After all, not many professional theatres specialize in
classical drama, and there are already lots of good translations
of Greek drama to be found in bookstores.
Yet Nicholas Rudall, formerly the artistic director of
the Court Theatre and a professor of classics at the University
of Chicago, is premiering new classical translations as
if he were churning out pulp fiction.
Rudall’s take on Euripides’ The Iphigenia
Cycle premiered at the Court during the 1998-99 season,
and was also just seen in New York. The same director,
JoAnne Akalaitis, is producing Rudall’s new version
of Euripides’ The Trojan Women next month at the
Shakespeare Theatre in washington, D.C. And Rudall has
agreed to newly translate Medea, also by Euripides, for
the planned American Theatre Company production (starring
Carmen Roman) in Chicago this fall.
Last, this weekend at The Viaduct (a funky emerging performance
space at the corner of Western and Belmont Avenues) you
can see not one but two new Rudall translations in their
world premieres. Under the direction of Joanna Settle,
a fringe company called Thirteenth Tribe is producing Blood
Line: The Oedipus/Antigone Story, which is actually contemporary
renderings of two canonical dramas by Sophocles: Oedipus
the King and Antigone. Currently in previews, the show
opens on Saturday.
That makes five new Rudall translations (which have been – or
soon will be – published by the independent and impressive
Chicago-based press, Ivan R. Dee Publishing) seeing the
light of day within about a year, at theatres both big
and small. So what’s this grand old man of the Chicago
theatre out to prove?
“I like designing translations with specific theatres and productions in
mind,” Rudall says. “I suppose that a lot of people have been coming
to me all of a sudden.”
There are several good reasons for that. Anyone who has
seen his work will tell you that Rudall crafts texts that
play very well in live performance. Unlike many of his
competitors (who work from literal translations done by
language specialists), Rudall works directly from the Greek.
But this particular scholar is not drawn to stuffy classicism
or archaic bombast, preferring “words that sound
good in the mouth of American actors.” He’s
also laudable willing to work with largely unknown troupes
like Thirteenth Tribe, whose creative passions far outweigh
their financial resources.
“I don’t add or take anything away from the original text,” Rudall
says. “I just try to write brief, pungent English sentences, even though
Greek tends to run on in long sentences. And I try to individuate the characters
as much as possible.”
Settle, the artistic director of Thirteenth Tribe, who
views Akalaitis as her mentor, says that she had originally
intended to produce only Antigone, but because the events
of that play flow directly from the familial crises that
take place within Oedipus, she decided to do both plays – and
Rudall obliged with both translations.
“Nick’s versions of the two plays are radically different from one
another,” Settle says.
A very serious ensemble whose previous work has been esoteric
and intellectually complex but also exceptionally well-crafted,
Thirteenth Tribe has been rehearsing Blood Line for more
than seven weeks. Although it is a bleak and industrial
space from the outside, The Viaduct is a very interesting
place to see theatre because the space therein is so huge
“It’s like a small airplane hangar,” says Settle, whose last
directorial endeavor was a $6 million South American tour of the musical Grease. “We
have the audience on three sides and carpet and gravel will be our mythic landscape.” There
will also be a Greek chorus of 10 crunching around on the stones, and a large
total cast made up of 25 Chicago-based actors.
Despite building something of a following among trendy
theatre aficionados, Thirteenth Tribe has yet to put together
a full season.
“We wait until we can put things up right,” she says. “And
we make the work in terms of how the work needs to be made.”
- Chris Jones -