|"YokastaS Redux" is the completion
of Richard Schechner's Yokasta project, to be presented by La MaMa in its
Annex Theater February 17 to 27. It is a completely different version of
a play which had a preliminary production in March-April, 2003, presented
by La MaMa in its First Floor Theater. Performed by East Coast Artists,
it is co-authored by Schechner and Romanian playwright Saviana Stanescu
and is directed by Schechner.
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 16th century play by George Gascoigne.)
Schechner asked, What if Yokasta 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 starting point,
Schechner invited the collaboration of Romanian playwright Saviana Stanescu
and the actors of East Coast Artists. They began writing and workshopping
The play moves through time, portraying Yokasta, mother of Oedipus, at
four different ages, played by four different actresses. Yokasta is presented
as an optimistic teen, an angry young woman, a happily married woman,
and an older woman who makes rounds of talk shows telling the hosts about
her famous life and complaining that nobody has written a play about her.
The effect is a multi-faceted play contrasting tragedy, irony, sexuality,
murder, and intellect. "YokastaS" juxtaposes the innocence of
girlhood with the brutality of women's fate in history. "Each Yokasta
has her own experience," says Schechner, "like Rashomon."
Breaking Yokasta into four characters enabled Schechner and Stanescu to
present aspects of the Yokasta myth as they imagine it might have evolved
over time. In "YokastaS Redux," we see Yokasta as if through
a prism, broken out into her various components. Yoyo,
age 14, represents the hope of the future. She insists she will not live
the life that is fated for her. Yoko, ages
from 18 to 30, enacts the night when she had to surrender Oedipus after
birthing him. Angry at Laius, she takes her revenge in many different
ways, including murdering all their male children. Yono,
a woman in her late thirties, never looks back. She is the perfect wife
to Oedipus. She loves him, has four kids with him, and helps train him
to be the perfect king. Finally, there is Yokasta,
around 55, who has seen it all and makes the rounds of talk shows. She
is cynical, fun and wise. Often these Yokastas are on stage together -
helping each other act out key scenes from their lives.
The characters are contemporary, as is most of the language. One actor
plays all the male roles: Laius, Oedipus, and TV talk show hosts. The
tone of the production swings from the emotional and tragic to the ironic
- with lots of references to pop culture. One scene depicts a talk show
where the Yokastas argue who is "tragedy's baddest mama." They
quote from Euripides' "Phaedra" and "Medea," Sophocles'
"Oedipus Rex," and Seneca's "Oedipus."
Emphasizing the intrusiveness of our electronic age, the outside world
is not fenced out of this show, but deliberately allowed to interrupt
it. The show will begin with a statement by the stage manager that tells
the audience and the actors to leave their cell phones on. The play will
actually stop if anybody's cellphone rings.
The production includes a slide show by Ryan Jensen depicting the first
night when Oedipus arrives in Thebes and is given a "royal bath"
by Yokasta. The actors include both long-time East Coast Artists performers
and newcomers to the company. Daphne Gaines* portrays Yokasta, Rachel
Bowditch* is Yono, Phyllis Johnson* is Yoko, Jennifer Lim* appears as
Yoyo, and Sarah Kozinn plays Understudy - a Yokasta in the making. Christopher
Logan Healy* plays the male roles of Laius, Oedipus, and The Media. (*=appearing
through the courtesy of Actors' Equity Association.) The play has been
completely rewritten and workshopped a number of times since its 2003
La MaMa production. Only Rachel Bowditch and Christopher Logan Healey
remain from the '03 cast.
Soundscapes are by Allan Willmer. Costumes
are by Oana Botez-Ban. Lighting design is by
Lucrecia Briceno. Photography is by Ryan
Jensen. Set design is by Schechner. Benjamin
Mosse is the assistant director.
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
holds a MFAs in playwriting and an MA in performance studies - both from
NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. "YokastaS" and "YokastaS
Redux" comprise her U.S. and English language playwriting debut.
Richard Schechner, 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 Oedipus and Yokasta once before, in his own version of
Seneca's "Oedipus" in Ted Hughes' translation. Schechner became
famous as director of "Dionysus in 69," "Mother Courage
and her Children," Sam Shepard's "The Tooth of Crime" and
Genet's "The Balcony." He founded East Coast Artists as a resident
company of La MaMa in 1992 in order to develop younger talents and attempt
once again to form a true ensemble repertory theater company. With ECA,
Schechner has directed "Faust/Gastronome" (1993), "Three
Sisters" (1997), and "Hamlet" (2000).
A Schechner Center will open in Shanghai, China in March, 2005, dedicated
to researching ritual and experimental performance, introducing Performance
Studies to China, and developing new collaborative artistic works. The
Center will present Schechner's retake of "Hamlet" in 2006.
This will be the first professional production with actors from the Mainland,
Hong Kong, and Taiwan working collaboratively on a single project. At
present, Schechner and Stanescu are working with the novelist Paul Auster
in developing a stage version of Auster's "Timbuktu," to be
staged by ECA in 2006.
East Coast Artists' first production, "Faust/Gastronome" (La
MaMa, 1993) 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" (La MaMa, 1994), 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 in the Yokasta
story, "Three Sisters" had the characters moving through time:
using a new (and faithful) translation by Michelle Minnick, it 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. East
Coast Artists' last production at La MaMa was "YokastaS" in
This production is funded in part through Meet The Composer's Creative
Connections Program with the support of ASCAP Foundation, Copland Fund,
Ford Foundation, Jerome Foundation, New York City Department of Cultural
Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, Virgil Thomson Foundation,
and the National Endowment for the Arts.