Old Stories, New News

December 9, 2014

On ancient stories and current events:

This Friday, students at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas www.obu.edu will be performing my one-act play Medusa’s Tale. I’m thrilled of course. I’m thrilled anytime anybody anywhere performs any of my plays. And naturally I take it as a compliment to my skills as a playwright that since its 1991 publication in Plays in One Act, Medusa’s Tale has been performed all over the world. In 2014 it’s been produced at high schools in Oskaloosa, Indiana and Fountain, Colorado as well as at the San Diego Fringe Festival and the University of Tulsa. Previously, it has served as the subject for a senior thesis written by a Classics student at Monash University in Australia and has been performed by students in the English Drama Society at Peking University in Beijing (in English with Mandarin side titles). It has also been performed in London, Manhattan, San Francisco, Tokyo, Brussels, Guam, Fairbanks, Barstow, Kalamazoo … and so on. Mostly by high school and college students. It’s my most-produced play by far, and I doubt that its appeal comes entirely from the quality of my writing.

Medusa’s Tale is about rape. It’s about “justice” serving the needs of those in power. It’s about turning the victim into a scary thing so that instead of eliciting empathy, the monster can become fair game for the hero. In other words, it’s relevant to current events. But the story is a very old one. The plot comes straight from Ovid’s Metamorphosis: the god Poseidon rapes the girl Medusa in the goddess Athena’s temple. Athena gets angry. So she punishes Medusa by turning her into a monster with snakes for hair and the power to turn men to stone by looking at them. Later, with the help of Athena, a young man shows up to slay the monster, become a hero, and marry the princess. In my rendition of these events, Medusa tells her story to the hero Perseus. He is moved but kills her anyway, because he is as much doomed by circumstances to be a hero as she is to be a monster.

Evidently, young men and women from very many different cultures connect to the themes of this story. But suppose I had given the play a contemporary setting – let’s say a frat house at a large public university or the streets of a racially-segregated American city. Suppose I had written directly about date rape and slut-shaming. Or about police brutality and a racist legal system. Would that play be staged at a university whose most famous graduate is Mike Huckabee? Maybe. Probably not.

I’ve drawn on Greek mythology for the plots of several of my plays. My aim in donning classical clothing is not to sneak wolfish ideas past conservative sheep herders. Not exactly. It’s to avoid easy categorizations and judgments coming from any pre-established perspective. If you come to the theatre to see a play about a subject in the headlines, you will most likely arrive already knowing what you think. But if you come to see a play about Medusa, or the Furies, or Persephone, you may not anticipate your own reactions. You may unexpectedly find yourself in sympathy with the monster. Or maybe, to your even greater surprise, with the hero.

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Introducing THOSE WOMEN PRODUCTIONS

Director Elizabeth Vega and I have become a producing team: We are THOSE WOMEN PRODUCTIONS, and we make theatre for people who like questions more than answers.

Our first production will be Just Deserts, a comedy about justice and revenge, opening August 29 at the Metal Shop Theatre in Berkeley.  Here’s a little more about us:

MISSION

Those Women make theatre for people who love great stories and want to explore big questions.  Our plays are rooted in the stories that have made us who we are—the myths, tales and legends of western culture.  We approach these tales from new angles, giving the stage to hidden truths of gender and power and to the unheard voices of women.  We practice radical hospitality—everybody is welcome regardless of their ability to pay.  We only ask that our audiences come to the theatre curious; we promise to leave them more curious still.

 

HISTORY

When we were as yet too young for other sorts of debauchery to hold much appeal, we fell in love with great stories.  Mostly these were stories by Dead White Guys.  Homer and Chaucer, Shakespeare and Sophocles, myths and folklore of every variety, we loved them all.  To this day, we are subject to their power—they make our heads spin and our pulses race.  But we also recognize that in these classic tales, the voices of women are often silenced and their lives relegated to the margins.  That’s a sobering fact.  And we’d rather stay giddy with the joy of tales worth telling.  So, on International Women’s Day 2014 we formed THOSE WOMEN PRODUCTIONS to explore classic stories from new angles.

 

~ Carol S. Lashof & Elizabeth L. Vega

April 21, 2014