Yokastas

March 20 - April 6, 2003
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday 2:30pm
First Floor Theatre

written by: Saviana Stanescu & Richard Schechner
director: Richard Schechner
light & set: E.D. Intemann
music direction: Meg Leary
choreography, assistant director, dramaturg: Kilbane Porter
assistant stage manager: Elizabeth Pink
players: Tracey Huffman, Suzi Takahashi, Kilbane Porter, Rachel Bowditch, Chris Healy
publicity: Theresa Smalec
managing director: Jeremy Allen Thompson
observer: Regina Müller



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 cast.

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.

2003 page