Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Heal by Aaron Posner

Kacie Rogers and Eric Hissom

By Joe Straw

The Getty Villa, and in particular the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, is a remarkable venue to see Greek plays and the re-working or adaptations of them.    

From the parking lot, the walk to the Greek open-air style theatre is a pleasant one.  With each step, Los Angeles falls by the wayside, the trees explode into mushroom like clouds, and the greenery fills one with enough oxygen to relax and take it all in. And because this is Malibu, a breeze starts blowing in, cooling the amphitheater to bearable temperatures against the insufferable heat of the day.     

But, seeing a play on opening night concerns me.  There is never enough money for the arts, and therefore never enough rehearsal time. Naytheless, the Round House Theatre group, from Bethesda Maryland, is a professional company, and opening night should not have been a problem.

Well, there were problems, a few, mostly about character, conflict, and script. Now that I think about it, that’s almost everything.      

The Heal written and directed by Aaron Posner is a re-imagining of Philoctetes by Sophocles and it is a comedy playing through September 28, 2019 at The Getty Villa.

Heal: to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, usually with the strong implication of restoring for amity, settle; reconcile.

Truth: honesty; integrity

Philoctetes (Eric Hissom) was left alone on the island of Lemnos. Not by choice, of course. On his way to fight the Trojan War, he was a victim of snakebite, a faithful revenge from the Gods for stepping on the sacred ground on Chryse.

For Philoctetes, the pain was unbearable and the smell remarkably putrid. This did not sit well with his comrades, the other soldiers, and they could not bear to be with him, all that whining and such, so they left him on the island, with only the bow bequeathed to him by Heracles (not seen), to fend for himself or die.

Ten years have gone by without a victory at Troy. With Achilles dead, Odysseus (Lester Purry) has his mind set on winning the war.  He has captured Helenus, the Troy prophet, and Helenus confessed the only way to win the war at Troy is with Heracles’ bow.

Sounds fair enough but this adds another component, a set of improbable logistics in order to take Troy.     

So Odysseus, and his minions, returns to the island of Lemnos possibly hoping that Philoctetes (the holder of the bow) was dead. 

But, when the ship arrived on the island, Odysseus, seeing signs that Philoctetes is among the living, and needing the bow to win the war, tries to convince Achilles’ daughter Niaptoloma (Kacie Rogers) to lie and by deception take the bow from Philoctetes by any lying means necessary.

Philoctetes will never give up the bow, unless it’s from his “cold dead hands” (my quotes).  

But, Niaptoloma, in reality, and of strong character, has a hard problem with lying. She is the proud daughter of Achilles and has a reputation to uphold.  Therein lies the conflict.  

To explain the backstory and all of the essentials in remarkable detail is a Greek chorus/dancers (Eunice Bae, the spectacular Emma Lou Hébert, and Jaquit Ta’le) who were the highlight of the show and kept the show very lively compliments of a very talented Erika Chong Shuch, Choreographer.  

And while that worked, one did not get folk-blues guitarist (Cliff Eberhardt) at all or why he was there. One loved the songs, the singing, but, where was this all going? And, how did it fit into the play? Perhaps, if he had been been the character Heracles certain things could have materialized.

Philoctetes finally shows up limping around like a three-legged frog, bow in tow, using it mostly as a cane, and very cautious, of what a woman, this woman, wants on his island.   He has trouble communicating, partially because of the pain, and partially being on the island for so long. Cognitive thinking and time away from other humans have a way of causing self-invalidation.  He, at least, recognizes the idea of being rescued.

There are a lot of good things in Aaron Posner’s play.  The main ideas were one of “truth” and of course “healing”.  The truth takes precedent over all of it and healing is a secondary event in the play and therefore the confusion of the play.  The play requires a stronger through line, and for the director a viable stamp critical for us to understand his intention or objective rather than a prévenance for the playgoers. In the end “truth” sums it all up, which is almost impossible to believe.  (Sophocles version is a little more believable, if one takes stock in Greek Gods and what they are spiritually capable of doing.)

While truth is the overriding issue of the two main characters, the truth has little to do with the characters.  Odysseus flat out lies and does not give a second thought about doing so. There is very little joy in his actions, and almost no conflict in the way he tries to convince Achilles’ daughter, Niaptoloma.  And she is not weigh down by the inner conflict she must overcome and regards the truth as an annoyance rather than any kind of overriding inner conflict.

Not much was made of the place, the island, where this all takes place in Posner’s direction but it did play an important part in the play as a whole.  The symbolic setting at the bottom of the amphitheater could have been anywhere also compliments of Thom Weaver’s scenic and lighting design.

The actors were superb.  But, there is more to add to the characters and the creative choices they made. This is not to take anything away but to add to the characters. 

Eric Hissom (Philoctetes) developed a strong character with interesting choices but without a definitive objective. If the truth is the through line, he should have been searching for it in a much more creative way.  If it is healing, he does little during the course of the evening to move in that direction. Philoctetes has also been on the island for ten years alone, Hissom should find ways to communicate that to his counterpart(s). The bow is sacred.  It was Heracles bow, (mortal turned God) and the actor did not treat it with much respect during the course of the night, or use it creatively, it seemed more like a crutch than an instrument of respect. In the end one wonders if the pain was in his head, or was used as an instrument to get what he wants.

Lester Purry (Odysseus) has a strong presence, a terrific voice, and a strong manner on stage.  Odysseus must be the wisest of the wise, the strongest of the strong, and every action the root of his intention. He comes to the island to get the bow, but he doesn’t want to do it himself.  Why?  If he is there to see if Niaptoloma can do it, why doesn’t he witness the interplay, or, get satisfaction from it? One guesses that he gets great satisfaction to see others carry out the impossible. But, he is not even around to witness the interplay between characters.  

Kacie Rogers (Niaptoloma) has a very good look, and a strong voice. Rogers creates a character from a person that never existed, Achilles, a Greek Warrior, and a hero of the Trojan War. Originally written as the character Neoptolemus, who is Achilles’s young son. So Rogers is doing creating a character from the ground up. There are more levels to add to this character, one of them being of a definitive strength, both in mind and body.  Also, for Niaptoloma, telling the story seemed to be a conflict of getting the story out, rather than the conflict within herself of telling the truth. 

Run! Run! And take a beast, someone who loves mythology.

Getty Villa
Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades

Info: (310) 440-7300   


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