category: full length two-act
genre: post-modern epic mythology
running time: two and a half hours
setting: ancient Troy/ancient Greece/Olympus
period: classical times
The Old Man/Anchises/Poseidon
The Beautiful Girl/Creusa/Aphrodite
The Smart Girl/Briseis/Athena
The Proud Girl/Chryseis/Hera
The Golden Boy/Hector/Apollo
The Black Sheep/Paris/Dionysus
The Strong Brother/Agamemnon/Ares
The Weak Brother/Menelaus/Hephaestus
Around a bonfire on an empty plain, a man tells a boy a story, that may or may not be their own story, while a Storyteller outside the action sets the stage. In Ancient Greece, the gods attend the birth of a destined hero, Achilles, who is cursed by the goddess Eris when his mother, Thetis, fails to invite her to the blessing ceremony. Eris throws a golden apple into the midst of three goddesses, Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera, who then take the apple to the shepherd, Paris, and ask him to judge which of them is the fairest and gets to keep the prize. He awards it to Aphrodite, who reveals he is a prince of the city of Troy, where he arrives on the wedding day of his brother, Hector, and is recognized by his mother, Hecuba, and his sister, the priestess Cassandra. Troy’s king, Priam, sends Paris on a diplomatic mission to Greece, where he falls in love with the Spartan queen, Helen, and they run away back to Troy. Helen’s husband, Menelaus, and his brother Agamemnon, declare war on the Trojans and spend the next ten years besieging the city. During this time, Thetis’s son, Achilles, comes of age and journeys to Troy, where he is destined to lead the Greeks to victory, but when Agamemnon takes a war prize from him, the slave girl Briseis, Achilles withdraws from the war and the Trojans get the upper hand. Odysseus comes up with a plan to have Patroclus, the companion of Achilles, dress in his armor and scare off the Trojans, which works until Menelaus stabs the goddess Aphrodite, intervening to protect Paris, and Eris reveals the true identity of Patroclus to Hector, who kills him. Enraged, Achilles kills Hector and steals his body, which Priam, guided by Hermes, successfully pleads to have returned. Achilles is then killed by Paris, who then also dies, and the Greeks find themselves no closer to winning than before. Odysseus prays to Athena for guidance, and is given an audience with the Storyteller, who tells him to build a large, hollow statue of a horse, with room enough for soldiers to be hidden inside of it. The Greeks do as they are told and the city falls. All the Trojans are killed, except for Aeneas, who escapes with his son, Ascanius, and father, Anchises, and Andromache, Hector’s widow, who outlives everyone, including Helen, to become queen of her own kingdom and die peacefully in old age. On the blank plain, the man tells the boy that the story is not over and may never end, and asks if he thinks they can live in the world in spite of this.
It took me eight years to write this play, but I had wanted to write a Trojan War play for much longer. It’s my favorite cycle in all of mythology, and the one which most influenced not just how I write, but how I think and relate to the world and our place, as human beings, in it. Though on the surface this play is an experimental retelling of the Trojan War from beginning to end, it’s also a meditation on identity, literature, duty, God, love, betrayal, death, fear, loyalty, and survival. It’s less about a war than it is about the war within any given human being, between who they are, who they aspire to be, and what role they are forced to play by the circumstances of their life. It’s the darkest play I’ve written at the end of a period of writing dark plays, and also the most hopeful and, I think, the beginning of a more light-hearted period in my work. I had a lot of demons to purge, I found, and only when I finally embraced that, rather than trying to keep them out of the play, was I able to craft the multi-level, deeply emotional piece about the Trojan War I had always wanted to create but kept resulting in bloodless, melodramatic retellings rather than vital, personal work. What I learned from writing this play, perhaps more so than any other, was the importance of making a story your own, whether it’s original or something sourced in other material, and not being afraid to take whatever stylistic risks you need to take to get into the head-space required to vocalize those vitriolic feelings that are what give the play urgency. In many regards, with its insanely ambitious sweep and achingly wrought characters, its classical roots and post-modern touches (all the actors play three roles, including their own archetype, and Helen is represented by a head on a stick), this is kind of my magnum opus, at least at this point in my life. The part where it is probably impossible to produce in the modern theater is almost irrelevant; it needed to be written and it best reflects, of anything I’ve done, my philosophy of storytelling and the power it wields over who and what we are.
No Nude Men Productions, November 23, 2013, part of the “San Francisco Olympians Festival” at The EXIT Theatre in San Francisco, California. Directed by Ariel Craft. Cast: Mariah Jane Castle (The Beautiful Girl), Ashley Cowan (The Smart Girl), Eli Diamond (The Boy), Siobhan Marie Doherty (The Proud Girl), Mackenszie Drae (The Black Sheep), Jan Gilbert (The Mother), Matt Gunnison (The Man), John Lennon Harrison (The Strong Brother), Tavis Kammet (The Weak Brother), Dan Kurtz (The Hero), Maria Leigh (The Storyteller), Carl Lucania (The Father), Brian Martin (The Friend), Theresa Miller (The Woman), Paul Stout (The Old Man), Nikolas Strubbe (The Golden Boy)