“We will be men of justice in the eyes of all the Greeks.”
– Odysseus, from Sophocles’ ‘Ajax’
Ajax remains my favorite stage experience. Re-imagining this ancient Greek epic (which to this day is rarely performed) was challenging, and exhilarating. I connected with Sophocles’ stoicism more readily than my experiences with Shakespeare – where the Bard hides wisdom in beautiful poetry, Sophocles takes a chisel to the nerves and sculpts harsh reality.
As Teucer, brother to the fatally-shamed Ajax, I felt the full brunt of a personal loss and a greater military responsibility. Holding the stage for the entire second act, I fought against the disenchanted Greek factions of Menelaus and Agamemnon, only to be rescued from inevitable violence by Odysseus, the man (or in the case of this production, the woman) most hated by Ajax.
The play is brief, and its namesake dies onstage barely half-way through. How did we adapt this unusual classic for a modern audience? Director Kirby Wahl and the production team created a disturbingly relatable world of middle eastern desert, field reporters and foreign news correspondents, a military platoon as the Greek Chorus, and an environment of suffocating fear and political dissension. In the lead-up to opening, the entire cast watched the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, about the day-to-day of a US platoon stationed in one of the deadliest regions of Afghanistan (sadly, director Tim Hetherington was killed while documenting the Libyan Revolution, only a few days after our production closed). The change in milieu was a smart decision, making Ajax a realer, meaner place for modern audiences (and since then, the Iraqi/Afghan setting seems to have cropped up in numerous professional adaptations of the Greek classics). Athena remained a goddess, but the sufferings of Ajax and his eventual suicide hinted at symptoms of extreme PTSD.
Ajax, directed by Kirby Wahl, had its run on April 14-17, 2011 in the McCrary Theatre at Elon University, North Carolina.
(UPDATE 11/30/2013: photo gallery is currently being rebuilt)
Photos courtesy of Randy Piland