The Soul Becomes Visible

Hippolytos, by Euripides

At the Getty Villa’s Fleischman Theater, Saturday,
September 16. Shows through September 30.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Nestled into the Malibu hillside, the elegant new Fleischman
Theater at the Getty Villa has the clean lines and pleasing
symmetry of an ancient Greek outdoor theater. Yet the architecture
was eclipsed by a startling, original, and highly accomplished
production of Greek tragedy that promises wonderful things to come,
both at the Fleischman (their Greek plays will continue on an
annual basis) and from the talented director Stephen Sachs, who has
achieved something truly brilliant with this
Hippolytos.

Working from a new translation by scholar and poet Anne Carson,
Sachs has fashioned a tense, driving, and accessible version of a
drama that is considerably more than 2,000 years old.
Hippolytos is a classic Euripidean tragedy rich with
pride, pain, and humor as the gods rain down their spiteful decrees
on mostly undeserving mortals. Hippolytos is a virgin dedicated to
the virgin goddess of the hunt, Artemis. When Aphrodite learns that
this young man refuses to pay her tribute, she unleashes her
jealous wrath on him in the form of a passionate lover — his
stepmother Phaidra. Euripides took two shots at this myth. In the
first, Phaidra was a shameless hussy and pursued Hippolytos with
unreserved lust. In this version, however, the passion she feels
causes her profound shame. Linda Purl was marvelous as Phaidra, and
the scene in which she was borne onstage on her bed, writhing in
internal conflict over her forbidden love, was one of the evening’s
many highlights.

Once Phaidra has hung herself and left a note charging
Hippolytos with raping her, the central conflict between father and
son begins. Both Morlan Higgins (as Theseus) and Paul Moore (as
Hippolytos) were tremendous — vivid, accurate, and profound in
their performances of this violent yet delicate dance of rejection,
despair, and — ultimately — forgiveness. The final scene in which
the dying Hippolytos, struck down by his father’s curse through the
god Poseidon, forgives Theseus for his fatal anger, was as moving
and immediate as any contemporary drama and all the more
provocative for having crossed the millennia to make us cry in
Malibu today.

Fran Bennett brought the part of Phaidra’s nurse to life with
tremendous wit and warmth, illuminating Euripides’ role as the
father of comedy, even within his tragic frame. The direction was
full of fascinating decisions, and the work of the male and female
choruses was at times truly electrifying. May this be the first of
many such brilliant productions at the Getty Villa.

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