Not much has changed in what people want in the past 2500 years. People want to find true love. Couples want to have children. Orphans want to know who their parents are. Men and (women) are constantly searching for their true identity. Individuals who have been wronged seek revenge. And those with dire questions turn to God for answers. Ancient Greece doesn’t seem to far off from our modern day lives.
Now add in a cryptic oracle, capricious and selfish gods, attempted murder, some light song and dance with a happy ending twist and you have Ion. A wonderfully crafted, moving dramady , that will have you at the edge of your seat while chuckling in delight. Director Ethan McSweeny returns to Shakespeare theatre with a wonderfully rich and timelessly modern take on Ion.
We are greeted by Hermes, the messenger God , as he glides sprightly from above on a red sheet and gives the audience the background story. An interesting twist- it is depicted with marionette puppets. At first, it’s a bit odd to see someone dressed all in black, running around with a puppet depicting the story, but soon it became amusing and very appropriate given the circumstances.
We are given to understand that Creusa , an Athenian royal, was overpowered by the God Apollo one day. Now if she was raped or simply overtaken by his godliness is unsure. What is sure is that he left her pregnant. Since she was royalty, she couldn’t shame her family. She abandoned the baby, in the same caves that she first ‘”encountered” Apollo, to perish. Apollo , however, had other plans for his son. So, he has Hermes take the baby to the Oracle at Delphi. There, he is brought up by the priestess as a temple servant.
Apollos’ son never finds out his true identity or origins. He is simply a temple servant, content in his day to day activities. Although he longs to know his identity, he knows that his fate is in the gods hands. That soon changes, when years later, Creusa arrives with her husband Xuthus to ask the oracle if they will have any children.
Creusa descends upon Delphi with her horde of handmaidens, who are appropriately dressed for an American style tour in Greece, none of that silly ancient toga stuff. This is one of many instances where the concept of time is a bit skewed. Are we in the Hellenistic Age or in the 1990s with those fanny packs? Xuthus’ guards wear suits and carry guns. While the poor temple servant is clad in plain old ancient –y style clothes. Bummer. An interesting mix of old and modern, to make things just a bit more interesting.
Anyway, Creusa and the servant confide in each other. One has no children ( and an abandoned, dead child as far as she knows) and one has no parents. What will the oracle say? Well, we all know prophecies tend to get confusing. Xuthus is told the first man he sees is his son who turns out to be the temple servant. In pure joy, he names his Ion. However, the oracle doesn’t say who the mother is. Clearly, Xuthus knows it’s not Creusa- he would have remembered that! Xuthus doesn’t really care. He is ecstatic to find out Ion is his child, he sets off to plan an elaborate party, Ions arrival into Athens and Xuthus bestowal of his legacy to Ion.
When Creusa hears this, you can imagine she is livid. Not only is she barren but now her husband has found out this random temple servant is his child. Jealousy, treachery, schemery ( is that a word?) debauchery and a surprise twist at the end, culminate in one of the happiest drama endings I have ever seen. I won’t give it all away!
A note has to be mentioned of the handmaidens, who sing, dance and go into an all out rage when they find out their lady has been betrayed by her husband. Loyal, yet still a bit silly, they provide a bit of comedic relief along with a good song and dance number . I really enjoyed their presence.
Creusa, Lisa Harrow, has been hurt. She has experienced pain. She just wants some closure ( a difficult thing to get from a god). Harrows’ persona is strong and powerful but you can see it cracking under the pressure. No one knows about the abandoned baby til the end. Harrow truly makes you feel sorry for Creusa . You almost think her craziness is justified in the end. And when it works out, you exhale in relief.
Ion played by Keith Eric Chappelle gives a dynamic performance with a booming voice and a lot of charisma. I only wish that they made Ion a bit more pathetic. Even though he is the main character, I wanted Ion to be more miserable .Chappelle is almost too powerful for this role, a real presence on stage. Nonetheless, he doesn’t disappoint. A true son of Apollo.
The stage set up is simple with no changes. All events occur at the oracle at Delphi. A wise choice when there is quite a lot going on in the story, the less distractions the better.
As with the previous two Greek plays I have seen at Shakespeare theatre, it is the simple effects that really make the performance special- a single cellist playing in the background, paper machee birds flying overhead, a colourful sash holding Hermes from above. It gives the drama a lighter feel. The language is easier on the ears then Shakespeare or , say, other Victorian literature and the message stays timeless.
And of course there are always lessons to be learned and deeper questions to be asked. The Greek gods are fickle and petty. They really are no better than mere mortals, besides their endless ambrosia and superhuman powers. But why do the people flock to their consul anyway? Can we trust the gods? On the temple of Apollo at Delphi, read the words ” Know Yourself”. Euripides knew that perhaps, this is the answer to most of the questions.
And what can I say about a pretty heavy play that ends with a lovely song and dance number? Simple delightful
Ion at the Harman Center
new version by David Lan
directed by Ethan McSweeny
about 90 minutes
3/10/2009 – 4/12/2009