East Coast Artists (Richard Schechner, Director), a resident company of
La MaMa, returns March 20 to April 6 with "YokastaS," a postmodern
adaptation of the myth of Yokasta, mother-wife of Oedipus. The play moves
through time, portraying Yokasta at four different ages, casting her with
four different actresses. Written by Schechner and Romanian playwright
Saviana Stanescu, directed by Schechner, this version of the myth renders
Yokasta as a pre-teen, a young woman, a happily married woman, and an
older woman who intelligently recollects all aspects of her life.
Richard Schechner, who rose to prominence by deconstructing another Greek
myth with "Dionysus in 69," explains that he has always been
intrigued by the myth of Yokasta because she is such an important figure
in the Greek tragedy -- but she is under represented onstage. Schechner
describes Yokasta as one of the "incomplete" figures of Greek
myth, with no play of her own in the classical Greek canon. (However,
she figures prominently in Stravinsky's opera, "Oedipus," and
in a 17th century play by Gascoigne.) What if, he asked, she never committed
suicide? This and other "what if's" led him to the notion of
filling in her life by portraying her in several stages of it. With this
as the concept, Schechner invited the collaboration of Romanian playwright
Saviana Stanescu, and they began last November, in collaboration with
The production was developed during an intensive workshop process where
Stanescu and Schechner explored with the performers the different themes
of the play using improvisation, archival research, music, and dance as
compositional tools. The intention was to find out who Yokasta was as
a woman, a queen, a wife, a mother and a mythic figure-without diminishing
her human qualities. During the workshops it became clear that there were
many Yokastas, and that these had to be represented onstage.
The result is a multi-layered text enacted in different styles. Laughter
and irony mix with the underlying tragic themes of the story. Music (from
the classical to pop), dance, and mime express aspects of Yokasta that
cannot be played out in words and ordinary stage movement. At one point
in the play, two other notorious women of Greek tragedy-Medea and Phaedra-appear
on a talk show with Yokasta debating the question, "Who is the baddest
mama of them all?"
Yoyo (played by Kilbane Porter) is Yokasta as a pre-teen. Yoko (played
by Suzi Takahashi) is Yokasta, King Laius's Queen. Yono (played by Rachel
Bowditch) plays Yokasta during her "good years" with Oedipus.
Yokasta (played by Tracey Huffman) is Yokasta today, a sophisticated,
ironic, yet still passionate woman who remembers everything that happened
to her with clarity and insight-from her first night with Oedipus to the
day when the secret of who is becomes known. At that moment, when Oedipus
blinds himself, the play gives different versions of how Yokasta handles
this extreme and difficult situation. Throughout the production, the four
Yokastas often interact, each performing her own unique interpretation
of events. Both Laius and Oedipus, characters whose names indicate their
physical and perhaps psychic deformities, are played by Chris Healy.
Co-author Saviana Stanescu is a prominent Romanian writer and author
of six books of poetry and drama, including an English-Romanian anthology,
"Black Milk," and a French translation of "Final Countdown."
She is a recipient of Romania's National Award for Best Play of 1999 for
"The Inflatable Apocalypse." She is a Fullbright scholar and
MFA candidate at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. This is her U.S. and
English language playwriting debut.
Richard Schechner, now a University Professor and Professor of Performance
Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, was the founding director
in 1967 of The Performance Group, which he headed until 1980. He has dealt
with the myth of Yokasta once before, in his own version of "Oedipus"
of Seneca, which used an adaptation by Ted Hughes. Schechner became famous
as director of "Dionysus in 69," "Mother Courage and her
Children," the "Oedipus" of Seneca, and Genet's "The
Balcony." He founded East Coast Artists as a resident company of
La MaMa in 1991 in order to develop younger talents and attempt once again
to form a true ensemble repertory theater company.
East Coast Artists' first production, "Faust/Gastronome," made
the old alchemist a chef and was praised as "simultaneously adventurous
and self-important, fiery and prodigal, sensuous and indulgent, quick
witted and facile" (Marc Robinson, Village Voice). About the company's
next production, "AmeriKa," directed by Maria Vail Guevara,
the Voice's Randy Gener wrote, "East Coast Artists has a penchant
for 'thEATer.' The embedded caps attest to how the troupe chews on...the
American Dream. 'Faust/gastronome' cooked up the Faust myth as capitalism
gone voraciously sick. Here, Kafka is chomped." When "Faust..."
toured England, the London Guardian (Claire Armistead) wrote, "these
people aren't just oddball iconoclasts--they are seriously talented actors
and singers who are using their skills and cooking utensils for a feast
of eye and mind."
East Coast Artists followed this production with two versions of Chekhov's
"Three Sisters" at La MaMa in 1995 and 1997. As with "YokastaS,"
"Three Sisters" had the characters moved through time: using
a new (and faithful) translation by Michelle Minnick, this version of
Chekhov's classic had its first act in pre-revolutionary Russia, the second
in post-revolutionary Russia, the third in a gulag of the 1950's and the
fourth in the here-and-now of the theater. The idea was to test the play
as drama, physical theater, farce and soap-opera by moving it through
the century, with the consciousnesses of Stanislavsky, Meyerhold and Stalin
all hovering over the stage.