Splayed out en masse -- in an unforgiving storefront on gritty
"All Our Tragic," the work of an adapter-director named
It's one thing for a
There is well over nine of hours of theater here (the rest of the time is taken up by breaks for food and bathrooms) and, on Sunday, you could count the flubbed lines on the fingers of one hand. If there were technical snafus, virtually none were discernible.
The title of the project, "All Our Tragic," is a pun on a soap opera, perhaps, and, for sure, a nod to the house style of self-reference and humor. Graney, who worked on this text during a year's fellowship at
No explicit distinction is made between the jottings of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; this is a hyper-contemporary mashup. Nor is there the kind of heavy concept that Graney used (unnecessarily, I thought) in his "Seven Sicknesses," a previous compilation of the Sophocles tragedies. There are many anachronisms --
But as the day moves into night, it becomes clear that what at first feels like a whip-smart but cartoonish parody of the superheroes and necromancers beloved most by Aeschylus -- the first few hours sent a few mythology geeks in my line of sight into ecstasy, but they were far from subtle -- has morphed into something much more serious. This wave kicks in most powerfully during the segment based on Aeschylus' "Agamemnon," the returning title character superbly played by Briggs as a war-weary hero, haunted by his murder of his own daughter and torn apart by homesickness.
Greek tragedies were written to be performed in festivals; the parsing of individual 90-minute plays is fundamentally a modern conceit. When you see them all like this -- and when and where else might you do that? -- you see the longer stories, the generational pass-downs, the price paid by years spent at war. You feel the emergence of yet bigger themes, the growing pains of humanity writ large.
Much stems from the so-called Seven Sisters, the daughters of Atlas, whose stars still shine down on us from the Cosmos and whose members and import Graney amplifies for his own devices. Much else stems from the quest for the most powerful weapon in the world. Insecurity is ubiquitous. Love struggles. Peace is elusive.
One of the fascinating aspects of this project is that even those of us who are deeply interested in this stuff really only know about half these plays well, so you get a unique blend here of the familiar travails of, say, Helen or Medea with lesser known personages whose doings provided much of the oft-overlooked context for the best-known stories. You feel a fuller
Not every performance is underpinned by ample technique and there are stretches that feel general and non-specific. Sometimes it's a matter of the comic impulse going a bit too far, sometimes a matter of insufficient vulnerability, especially among men, often just a lack of detail. In any project like this, a director is going to spend more time with some sections than others. So it feels here. You wait those spots out.
There are enough first-rate performances -- Button as Orestes,
For Graney, who is perhaps yet more a writer than a director, this is a remarkable achievement for a man whose work I've watched for years and who always has taken and learned from any sting of failure and then doubled-down on the level of risk. He, and
The end of "All Our Tragic" is, as you might expect, very emotional, not least because audience and cast feel the sense of mutual accomplishment, the end of a shared marathon race. Some directors who take on stuff like this are cynics or nihilists. Some are elitists who fear accessibility morphing into the obvious. Still others are gifted aesthetes willing to sacrifice their first-born (so to speak) for a pretty picture or a wave of emotion.
But Graney, for good or ill, is a messy, goofy, scrappy optimist. The takeaway of his super-sized show is that our lives usually start out being filled with external tormentors-- enemies who wish to skewer our Achilles' heels or attack our homes and families or compete for whatever sliver of power we have gained for ourselves. And then, as we age, we end up more and more with ourselves. Our furies are internalized demons. For the record, 'right there myself.
Well. As Graney and the Greeks combine to observe at great length here, everyone we compete against eventually dies, just as we do ourselves. Might as well be happy for a bit, then.
Running time: "All Our Tragic" plays either in weekend marathons (recommended) or on weeknights in four sections
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