By Hedy Weiss
In the lobby of the Den Theatre, where The Hypocrites theater company is now performing a revised, handsomely remounted edition of its widely acclaimed 2014 production “All Our Tragic,” you will find copies of the full script of director Sean Graney’s awe-inspiring 12-hour adaptation of all 32 of the surviving ancient Greek tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.
Each volume has the heft of a telephone directory for a megalopolis. And I mention this simply to suggest the sheer monumentality of the company’s undertaking: a morning-to-night marathon performance featuring 17 performers possessed of an astounding level of mental focus and physical endurance, as well as formidable acting, combat and musical skills.
But “All Our Tragic” is far more than one of those “make no small plans” projects for which Chicago theater is renowned. As the audience makes its way through the four parts and eight acts of this production — a work sublimely unified in all aspects of its presentation and design — every major theme of public and private existence is explored.
We see the full range of relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, politicians and citizens, generals and soldiers. We see the horrors and insanity of war in all their extremity, the gruesome payback for sexual betrayals, the high price paid for loyalty, the futility of prophecy and the wages of guilt. We see people driven to acts of both devotion and madness. We feel the lust for power, the ache for home, and the inevitability of death.
‘ALL OUR TRAGIC’
When: Through Aug. 9
Where: The Hypocrites at the Den Theater, 1329 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $100-$150 including box lunch, dinner and snacks. Cash bar.
Run time: 12 hours with lunch and dinner breaks and four intermissions
Although fully true to the spirit and narrative arc of the tragedies, this is no academic exercise. Graney takes a fierce approach to these classic dramas but has devised countless ways to infuse the language with both searing poetry and playful anachronisms, and to give the storytelling a deeply heroic quality while often infusing it with a tongue-in-cheek, action-comics energy.
Witty and smart, and fully comprehensible as it moves through sequences that are mostly but not entirely familiar (Prometheus and Herakles, Jason and Medea, the Oedipus cycle, the Trojan War, the shattered family of Agamemnon and Klytaimnestra and their children, Elektra and Orestes), the production forges a communal bond between performers and audience. And as the savagery, greed and dysfunction piles up, the tragedy of it all (often leavened with pitch-black humor) comes into stark relief: There is something in human nature that is hellbent on the destruction of others and the self.
Graney has sharpened and clarified the show, primarily through his collaboration with set designer Tom Burch, who has maintained the weighty, Aegean-hued doors of his original set but shifted from an alley configuration to a thrust stage that focuses attention (with help from lighting master Jared Moore) with far greater intensity. Costume designer Alison Siple’s work is, if possible, even more glorious this time around.
And then there is the musical scoring so crucial to setting each mood. A brilliantly off-kilter mix of traditional Americana and operatic arias, it is performed by a trio of singer-instrumentalists dubbed the Odd Jobs that includes Ann Delaney, Kate Carson-Groner and Lauren Vogel (with the ghost of lovely Erin Myers, who was in the original cast and died of cancer in May, hovering close by).
There is not enough space to sing the particular praises of the other 14 actors, so they must be recorded only as a constellation of stars: Geoff Button, Walter Briggs, Erin Barlow, Tien Doman, Lindsey Gavel, Christine Stuhlik, Breon Arzell, John Taflan, Emily Casey, Dana Omar, Ryan Bourque, Ezekiel Sulkes, Maximilian Lapine and Danny Goodman. They will perform this marathon back-to-back on weekends through Aug. 9, a feat not even the ancient Greeks could have imagined. It’s an Olympic workout for audiences, too. But go for the gold.