The world premiere run of "Hoplite Diary,"
conceived and directed by Tom Lee, will be presented September 30 - October
3 as part of the La MaMa Puppet Series Festival. The piece tells the story
of the Trojan War through the eyes of a "hoplite," a Greek footsoldier
who is a nobody.
With the La MaMa Puppet Series Festival, the formative East Village
theater once again takes its place as a leading US entry point for artists
from around the world, and where the international influence on New York
artists is most on display. This festival features US premieres of multicultural
works from India, Poland, Bali, Japan and the Czech Republic in addition
to two that, while crafted in New York, are brimming with international
art forms. One production is a significant revival: the series culminates
October 7 to 10 with "Motel," the puppet play of "America
Hurrah," Jean-Claude van Itallie's trilogy, which was originally
presented by La MaMa in 1965 and is now widely regarded as the watershed
Off-Broadway play of the Sixties. The festival utilizes all three of La
MaMa's performance theaters.
The piece follows the journey of a "hoplite," an anonymous
Greek footsoldier from ancient times, through the Trojan War. The Trojan
War is usually told through its heroes -- Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris,
Odysseus, etc. The goal of this production is to tell the story of a nobody
-- a soldier who is not in a position of power but only a cog in the machinery
of war. In familiar stories, the Greek gods choose favorites to protect
and guide through battle. However, this is the story of someone with no
special protection who must attempt to survive and retain his humanity
in fields of battle on the far side of the world.
It is a large-scale work that incorporates shadow puppetry, video animation,
bunraku style puppets and mechanical wooden stage machinery. The central
character in the piece is constructed in a basic bunraku style, which
requires the control of three puppeteers (one for the head and left hand,
one for the right hand and one for the feet). There are also shadow puppets
of birds and other characters that appear on multiple shadow screens throughout
the performance. During a trip to Xi'an, China, Director Tom Lee became
fascinated with the many reliquaries filled with thousands of terracotta
clay warriors that he viewed there, and under this influence, he has designed
and constructed almost all of the objects and puppets used in the project,
relying on paper, wood and Japanese carpentry techniques inspired by his
years working under Obie-winning scenic artist Jun Maeda at La MaMa. Lee
has also created intricate video animation sequences based on figures
from Greek vase paintings. Much of the text comes from Homer's "Iliad"
and other ancient sources, translated from Greek to English by John Lee,
Professor of Ancient History at the University of California at Santa
Barbara, who also served as a historical consultant to the production.
Moscow-born composer Ilya Temkin built many of the instruments used
in the production. Temkin is a musician and scientist at the Museum of
Natural History and has spent years studying archaic Eastern European
instruments from the Russian and Ukrainian tradition, such as the gusli,
hurdy gurdy, and bandura, which were often used in epic story telling.
Additional music and vocals will be done by Julian Kytasty, a master of
the Ukranian bandura and other folk instruments, and by Marina Celander,
a Swedish performer and singer, who will perform music inspired by Scandinavian
folk sources. "Hoplite Diary" is presented by the La MaMa Puppet
Series Festival, which is supported in part by The Henson International
Festival of Puppet Theater, and by an Artist Grant from The Jim Henson
Director/Designer Tom Lee is originally from Mililani, Hawai'i. He designed
Tom O'Horgan's production of the Harry Partch's microtonal opera "Oedipus
Rex" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Irish Tour of
Yoshiko Chuma's dance theatre piece "Yellow Room" and the La
MaMa's production of "The Last Two Jews of Kabul" by Josh Greenfeld,
directed by George Ferencz. Recently, he re-created the set for The Great
Jones Repertory's "The Trojan Women," based on the original
design by Jun Maeda, in the ruins of a farmers' cooperative in the Polish
town of Gardzienice. As a performer he has appeared at Second Stage Theatre,
Yale Repertory, La MaMa, PS 122, The Duke 42nd Street, Madison Repertory,
St. Ann's Warehouse and numerous other venues in New York and around the
world. He is a company member in Dan Hurlin's Obie-winning puppet production
"Hiroshima Maiden," where he has served as both a puppeteer
and builder. A member of the St. Ann's Puppet Lab for two years, he is
currently a finalist for the NEA/TCG Career Development Program for Designers.
The actor/puppeteers are: Marina Celander, Sara Galassini, Kanako Hiyama,
Onni Johnson, Michael Kelly, Yoko Myoi, Andrew Pang and Brian Snapp. This
production is supported in part by The Henson International Festival of
Puppet Theater and by an Artist Grant from The Jim Henson Foundation.