AISLE SAY San Francisco


By Aeschylus
Adapted by Ellen McLaughlin
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Barbara Oliver
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Sadly, not much has changed in nearly two and a half millennia, to judge by "The Persians." It was written by Greek playwright Aeschylus in 472 B.C., adapted by playwright-actor Ellen McLaughlin in 2003 and now is staged by Aurora Theatre Company. A play that looks at the horrible aftermath of war, "The Persians" has chilling parallels to Iraq today. In her program notes, McLaughlin says that Tony Randall, founder and artistic director of the National Actors' Theater in New York, hired her to adapt the play after the United States went to war against Iraq in March 2003.

McLaughlin also writes that the play "is the first extant full-length play in the Western canon and the only surviving Greek play that treats a contemporary theme. Aeschylus was a soldier at Marathon ... and no doubt participated in the battle of Salamis, the nearly miraculous defeat, against seemingly impossible odds, of the Persian navy."

The play is set in Persia as a chorus of four older men -- State (Christopher Herold), Chairman (Owen Murphy), General (Paul Santiago) and Justice (Lawrence Thoo) -- await word on the fate of the mighty military force assembled by the Persians to conquer the Greeks. Joining them is their queen, Atossa (Lura Dolas), mother of Xerxes (Craig W. Marker), who led the Persian forces. Finally word arrives. The Herald (Michael Wiles) staggers into town and describes the horrible defeat suffered by the Persians. Virtually no one survived.

The four older men blame the defeat on Xerxes for offending the gods and call on his dead father, Darius (Charles Shaw Robinson) to advise them. Then Xerxes himself returns, full of remorse and sorrow. There is no hope left for anyone.

Barbara Oliver directs this 90-minute, intermissionless play with restraint, allowing the emotions to ebb and flow. She's aided by the fine cast, Kate Edmunds' simple set, Fumiko Bielefeldt's modern costumes, Jim Cave's lighting and especially Chris Houston's haunting music. Oliver, the company's founding artistic director, and her successor, Tom Ross, chose well when they decided to open the season with this play, which resonates so strongly today. Perhaps the strongest message it delivers is the folly of hubris, which drove Xerxes into Greece and, many believe, George W. Bush into Iraq.

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