Jason Lives: The Story of the Argo-Nots

category: short two-act children’s play
genre: comedy
running time: 55 minutes
setting: various places around the Mediterranean and Black Seas
period: ancient times

Orpheus, the famous minstrel
Jason, prince of Iolcus
Pelias, his uncle
Hera, Queen of the Gods
Medea, princess of Colchis
Aeetes, her father, king of Colchis
Absyrtus, his son
Thetis, goddess of the sea
Aphrodite, goddess of love
Athena, goddess of wisdom
Hercules, the strongest man in the world
Atalanta, the strongest woman in the world
Asterion, a sailor
Telamon, another sailor
Calais and Zetes, winged warriors, the sons of the wind god
Phineus, an unhappy island king
Three Harpies, half-bird women sent to torment him
Argus, the designer of the Argo
A Three Headed Dragon
Three Soldiers of Colchis
A Messenger
A Field Of Warriors
Rhoda, a stagehand

Orpheus, the famous musician, muddles through a lyre malfunction to tell his audience of fans about his voyage with Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the lost treasure known as The Golden Fleece, an enchanted ski jacket made from the wool of a flying sheep. Jason is tricked into going on the quest by his evil uncle but, assisted by the goddess Hera, who he meets while she’s in disguise, is able to acquire a boat (the Argo) and a crew of heroes to accompany him. Together they sail to the island of Colchis, stopping to help free King Phineus from the torment of the harpies and braving the Stymphian Glades, a pair of moving rocks that destroy ships. Just within sight of Colchis the Argo is blown off course by Thetis, who is angry with Jason over an earlier offense. Jason is swept overboard but swims to shore (again, assisted by Hera), where Medea, the princess of the island and an accomplished magician, helps him steal the Golden Fleece from her evil father. Hera guides the Argo back to Colchis in time to help Jason and Medea get away and after Hercules and Atalanta wrestle Thetis into submission she further aides them by blowing the pursuing Colchians back to their homes. The heroes return in triumph and Orpheus, having finished his tale, graciously accepts the audience’s applause.

author’s comments:
I originally wrote this on commission for the Cathedral School of Boys in San Francisco, and in its first production, in February of 2007, all the female roles were made into male roles except Medea and Hera (who were played by fifth grade boys in drag) and a number of smaller parts were cut- Atalanta, Telamon, one of the harpies, Aphrodite and Athena (who were combined into one character, Aeolus). The unusual casting demands of the production proved the script’s innate flexibility, something I wanted to demonstrate since I had written it with CSB in mind but also wanted the show to have a life of its own beyond that first production- one that would one day include real girls in the girl roles. Since school productions tend to require large casts I actually found the process of adapting one of my favorite Greek myths quite liberating because for once I didn’t really need to worry about “making it too big”- a criticism I think is often leveled at my work, usually by directors who don’t realize that anything can be scaled back or innovatively cast if you’re creative enough (or willing) to figure it out. CSB ironically had twice as many actors as were needed for the script, but because of how the drama program was structured, could only use half their actors during each act of the play, since the play was rehearsed during school time (and half of the actors were either in one period of drama or the other). CSB also had the advantage of a private school budget and sets and costumes were surprisingly well done- albeit cartoonish, which is perfectly fine for what became a fairly silly story once re-tooled for fifth-graders. Gone were Medea killing her children (and her brother), the violent history of the Fleece, Hercules’s male lover and his abduction by mermaids, etc. In its place I wove what I think is a fairly entertaining, not to mention funny, fairy tale where Jason functions less as a traditional hero and more as a boy with normal abilities but an abnormally benevolent life view. By trying to be a good, honest person he gets farther than if he were more devious (like his uncle, King Aeetes, and even Medea), though he also gets his share of hard knocks for the same reason (after all, I did write this play and it is based on Greek mythology). At the center of the story there is also a moral of forgiveness: as Jason continues to exhibit the virtue of being honorable and kind, even to people who don’t necessarily deserve it, an idea which helped the play go over pretty well at a Catholic school, despite the boys in dresses and the pagan gods. I’d like to think it’s the kind of lesson any group would want to present to a young audience; I can think of a lot of older folk who could definitely benefit from it too. A later production of the show in Dublin proved this to be true.

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