Greek mythology in an era of tiny passions

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by Matthew A. Everett • So the process I’m in the middle of right now, is putting my two previous versions of the Medea play together, and trimming the fat out of it, to get the purest form of the story I can manage.

Still a work in progress at the moment.

At first as I was working on it, I was thinking of creating it all again from scratch, and just referencing the two existing scripts as I worked my way through it. Then I realized that the essential structure of the thing – the beginning, middle and end of it, the characters – was sound. I should probably build on what was there. Altering it, of course, making it better. But not re-inventing the wheel.

single white fringe geek is the blog of matthew a. everett. in addition to being one of five bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet, he blogs throughout the year about theater and culture.

So I created a file that had the two scripts – the older and the newer version – lined up back to back in the same document. And I’d start writing the latest version up in front of them both, at the beginning of the document – cutting and pasting as needed. Slowly, the document would shrink down in size to just the brand new script that emerged from fusing the two older plays together.

But as I started putting the brand new script together, I realized I was wasting a lot of time picking a scene out of the oldest script, then scrolling all the way down in the document and finding the analogous scene in the newer script, and pulling that out. Moving it all up front a chunk at a time, then rewriting and polishing.

I was essentially doing a lot of hopping around when all I was looking to do was line up the two versions, one scene at a time, side by side, or at least in the same general vicinity in the document, for easier juggling.

So why not just chop both versions apart and slam the corresponding scenes together right next to each other. That way I’m not going through the whole story start to finish three times, but only once.

That cutting and pasting project is now behind me. And now I’m working on crafting each scene out of the two versions of it which came before. Old scene one, newer scene one – meld them into a single unit and fix them up. Next, old scene two, newer scene two – meld and fix. And on through the story to the bitter, or not so bitter, end.

The main advantage I have this time around is – no modern day characters. I don’t have to find some reason to justify the fact that these people are telling this story. It doesn’t have to reflect, literally or thematically, off something that is happening in their lives. I don’t need a Greek mythology geek that rambles on about a bunch ancient fictional characters, while everyone else puts up with him and his mythological hard-on because he’s their friend, their family, they want to sleep with him, etc. (Thus avoiding bizarre plot structure misfires like the one draft where the modern day plot line was moving backward, but the mythological story was moving forward. If you took the script apart and put it together in chronological order from a modern day standpoint, those characters were actually telling the Medea story backward. Why anyone would tell, or want to listen to, a story in reverse like that – inside or outside the confines of the play, well, I have no excuse. I never recovered from reading Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” during my formative years, apparently. I am constantly messing with time in my plays. It’s just something I do. It would drive Aristotle crazy. But just because I *can* do something with a play’s structure, doesn’t mean I should. There needs to be more of a reason than, “because I thought it might be neat.” I do still get teased about that misbegotten draft by the way. Mercilessly. You know who you are. But let’s be honest, I deserve it.)

I need to release myself from the burning desire to make some direct one-to-one correlation with 21st century life in the hope of convincing everyone how “relevant” the story is. One could argue that yes, there are mothers killing their children all the time, literally and figuratively. And there are those that would affirm that we’re still surrounded by supernatural beings – angels, ghosts, horoscopes, what have you – which are influencing or even controlling our destinies.

But there really isn’t a modern correlative to Ancient Greek mythology. The world isn’t just one country or culture anymore (as if it ever was). There are no universally agreed upon gods and demons. There is no single set of stories that we all tell and share with each other, which we all have in common, even just within the United States of America (which is the audience I need to worry about first, specifically Iowa).

Trying to get modern day characters and their life experiences to have the same breadth and scope of mythology is a bit more of a stretch than I’ve ever been able to wrap my head around. Compared to the epic scale of Medea and Jason, our passions and adventures seem kind of tiny. They’re not, of course. Particularly not to the people living those lives from day to day. But it’s apples and oranges. Best not to muddy things up by comparing them.

Here, in this version, we have an ensemble, a Greek chorus if you will (if you must). Their sole purpose – to tell this story. They exist to be storytellers. They are the story. They become the characters. They want to present the tale to the people who gather to hear them speak.

Good old fashioned catharsis.

At least, that’s the hope.

The trick, of course, is to give everyone in the ensemble enough to do, so they all feel well-utilized, and challenged, by the production. So they bring their A-game.

First, I need to bring mine.

Matthew A. Everett is a local playwright and three-time recipient of grant support from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Information on Matthew and his plays can be found at matthewaeverett.com.

Published on 1/7/09.