Hoplite Diary

The Annex Theater
September 30 - October 3, 2004
Thursday – Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday matinee 2:30pm

Director & Designer: Tom Lee
Music: Ilya Temkin


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 Foundation.

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.

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