By CATHERINE RAMPELL
Published: February 3, 2012
“These Seven Sicknesses” must generate a lot of laundry.
Over the course of this ambitious adaptation of Sophocles’ seven surviving plays, blood erupts from just about every orifice, onto just about every article of clothing and just about every square inch of the narrow stage.
The Greek chorus — recast as nurses who occasionally spring into blues ballads — spends a lot of time mopping.
Whatever the detergent bill, it’s worth it for this vibrant downtown retelling of these dark Greek legends, performed by the Flea Theater’s resident acting company, the Bats.
Sure, Sophocles purists may not be happy. His works have been condensed and revised so that they weave into one another in a long dramatic tapestry. The gods have also been mostly excised, with not one member of the 38-person cast playing a deity.
But modern audiences unfamiliar with some of the more bizarre and twisted tales of Ajax, Elektra and others will appreciate many of the changes. Major, typically violent plot points are staged in all their gory glory, rather than described after happening offstage, as in most classical Greek theater. And where actual plot changes are made, they usually serve to emboss, embellish and sensationalize the psychosexual undertones of the original texts.
Perhaps the greatest compliment is to say that the show feels much shorter than its five hours. That’s partly because there are two breaks, one in which Asian noodles are served and in the other, dessert. But it’s also a credit to Sean Graney’s breezy script and Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s fast-paced and resourceful direction.
If you’re not familiar with the original texts, you may have difficulty imagining how the plays could possibly be staged in isolation, so much do they talk to and build on one another here. They essentially jell into two separate stories: the curse upon the house of the mother-lovin’ Oedipus and his descendants, and the Trojan War’s psychological, moral and physical destruction of Greece’s finest soldiers and their families.
The actors are eager and energetic, if not always polished. (The chorus’s a cappella singing, which generally textures the performance, can get a little wobbly.)
Among the particularly strong performances: Kate Michaud’s Dejanira, Herakles’ scorned and twitchy wife; Katherine Folk-Sullivan’s criminally decent Antigone; Tommy Crawford’s jovial, if bad-news-bringing, messenger; and Holly Chou’s bald, mordant and truth-burdened Blind Seer.
These and dozens of other bushy-tailed performers have created a show that feels above all else entertaining and fresh. That’s no small feat, considering its marathon length and 2,400-year-old roots.