FringeArts Review – Dionysian war dances

Ajax, the madness

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

AJAX, the madness by Attis Theatre
Director: Theodoros Terzopoulos

In its US premiere at the Wilma co-presented Attis Theatre’s famed production Greek tragedy of  AJAX, the madness in a chilling excerpt of a the much longer play by Sophocles by Theodoros Terzopoulos. It is a war story of Troy, but universally about the barbaric compulsions of man that resonates more than ever. The opening tableau of the masks of comedy and tragedy have the actors heads bowed in troughs as their voices ascend from a low titter to maniacal laughter, and then descend back into the basins with crying and sobbing. When they finally rise, they each take turns telling the story of murder, war, revenge and mayhem.  The red interior boxes doubled as strategic markers in the telling of the story, just as other symbols of knives and even red high heels become equally threatening.

The adaptation is stripped of much of its linear narrative and is more of a physical theater experience. Actors Tasos Dimas, Savvas Stroumpos, Meletis Ilias seem punched through the stage from ancient Greek theater. With ritualistic, unison moves and very stylized gestures, some reminiscent of Japanese Samurai, warrior poses and tai chi friezes. Ajax is so impassioned with impending battle, it leads him to brandish knives and slaughter animals as if they were enemy soldiers. The first actor renders the tale in a tragic oratory, the second as mocking satire, the third comedically as he brandishes though stilettos.

The most intense is Ilias’s version of events, as he is spewing murderous intrigue or blood lust, his monologue builds to shattering intensity and in fact is a dance of death. Ilias eventually simulating stabbing himself desperately at the end of this march, the sweat and droll just poured off him, he delivers the lines with measured sonority. All of the actors make the Greek text sublime to hear, but it was the movement, gesture and pantomime, in other words, classic physical theater.


About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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