Ion at the Shakespeare Theatre

Oh, what a wonderful thing theater is! I thoroughly enjoyed the Shakespeare Theatre’s new production of Euripides’ Ion, billed as a “Greek tragedy with a happy ending.” Though the “happy” part of the “happy ending” is always subject to nuance and debate, as the viewer must necessarily question the tidiness with which that “happy ending” is obtained….

The play is currently being staged at the Harman Center for the Arts, the newest venue for the Shakespeare Theatre, and I always find my time there well worth the effort. The play was only about an hour and a half in total, with no intermission, emphasizing the compression of time. In David Lan’s adaptation, the chorus–originally suppliants to Apollo’s oracle at Delphi–are modernized into tourists, a decision that works so perfectly with the idea of a suppliant to the oracle that I’m surprised that no one had done it before. The set design doubles this staging decision, retaining the “authenticity” of the temple place–Greek columns, flagstones, grueling steps, altar, grandiose doors separating the space outside the temple from the temple interior–but edging it round with the trappings of a tourist destination. The grueling stairs have been rendered safer with the addition of those metal handrails you might see at any scenic overlook, and the plaza is separated from the temple doors by a chain–no visitors beyond this point!

I won’t go into it all, but I was particularly interested–given that the play was being performed in Washington, DC–to note the resonance at times between Ion and our new President. Ion not only looked like Obama (whether this casting choice was deliberate, I don’t know, but I find it hard to believe the director could be so oblivious), but the character’s worries about being seen as an usurper, “son” to a non-Athenian but suddenly endowed with a massive political inheritance, could not but sound a note of familiarity.

If any from theater history are reading this, I highly recommend it and definitely encourage you to go! Try for half-price tickets via The Ticket Place.

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