Both Sides Now

The Clouds. At Westmont College’s Porter Theatre, Friday,
February 23. Shows through March 3.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

The_Clouds.jpgBe careful what you wish for — it may
come true. Among the many themes in this “fantasia” adapted from
Aristophanes’ The Clouds, this warning resonated most
clearly. John Blondell’s modern rendition of the 5th-century-bce
satirical play exposes human flaws and follies by being as
irreverent as some ancient Greeks were. The difference was the
lofty Olympian images here have been replaced. In this version, the
“venerable goddesses” known as the Chorus of Clouds in the original
play appeared as though they came from an Austin Powers movie. To
the beat of Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me,” these chorus girls
were all hips and swaying, their identical white mini-dresses and
white boots completing the sweetly seductive look of ’60s go-go

As they danced into view through fog and vapor, the go-go chorus
was accompanied by Socrates (Amber Angelo), who looked very sharp
in a shimmering disco outfit and dark sunglasses. Traditionally
considered wise and knowledgeable, Socrates was summoned to
dispense advice to Strepsiades (Nolan Hamlin), whose son has a
gambling problem that has driven him into debt. Aristophanes’
Socrates is not the spiritual seeker described by Plato. Instead,
this Socrates is lampooned as a charlatan. In his dialogues with
the beleaguered Strepsiades he claims a monopoly on truth while
mocking religion. Strepsiades, however, has no use for these
esoteric teachings; he simply wants to master the art of false
reasoning, so he can “twist any legal verdict in [his] favor.”
Anxious to evade his creditors, he brings his son, Pheidippides, to
be taught in the art of speaking. The ensuing debate on proper
education is designed to help Strepsiades choose the right mentor
and a more moral path. However, the sexy looks and subversive logic
of the allegorically named New Ways invites the man to indulgence,
not self-restraint. Wearing an astronaut suit, the defeated figure
of “Old Ways” departs in a mood of nostalgia to the tune of Elton
John’s “Rocket Man.”

Having taught his son the ends justify the means, Strepsiades
eventually gets a taste of his own medicine. In a scene that must
have seemed awfully disturbing to the patriarchal Athenian
audience, the son whips his (virtual) father. Indeed, the art of
twisted logic has justified Pheidippides in reversing the rules.
Overall, Blondell’s up-to-date direction softens the didactic
nature of the play and sharpens its satire of contemporary


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