Director Sara Judge on ‘Seven Against Thebes’

Of all the plays in THE THEBAN CHRONICLES, adapting Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus proved to be the most difficult. The play’s lyricism and formality makes it more similar to an epic poem than a dramatic tragedy, presenting both a beguiling and demanding challenge for any director. Yet, there is something at the core of Aeschylus’ work, in its commentary about war, ambition, and gender, that resonates as undeniably immediate, in the same way that the language is wonderfully classic. Director Sara Judge had this to offer:

“Taking on the task of directing the staged reading of Seven Against Thebes was a welcomed yet unlikely project for me. I’ve felt most comfortable as a director staging new works with modern language by living writers. However, the challenge and initial uncertainty of being able to envision a compelling reading for this ancient tragedy quickly transgressed into an unexpected and fascinating journey.

It’s difficult to talk about Greek tragedy without getting political.  So much has stayed the same—politics, family and the internal struggles behind the scenes. I thought, in all seriousness, about the possible struggles between George W. and Jeb Bush.  Why wasn’t there more evidence of in-fighting there? Polynices and Eteocles fought brother against brother. Maybe kings have learned how to stay in power. Share with your brother and you both enjoy the spoils of the crown. Battle your brother and risk losing everything.

What fascinates me most about Seven is the role of women in the play. Though rarely in the forefront of our minds, the status of women has been elevated since the times of ancient Greece. Just the fact that I’m writing to you from this platform right now, and I’m free to leave the house for non-religious events tells its own epic story. In fact many critics of the time disapproved of any significant roles for female characters in Greek theater. In my research I found that even, “Plato complains of the dangers of the theatrical impersonation of social inferiors such as women and slaves and of feminine emotions.” What were they so afraid of?

Female characters remained essential in telling these ancient androcentric stories. Female characters allow the audience to more clearly examine the behavior and motives of male characters.  In Seven Against Thebes, the warnings and emotional cries of female voices (the Chorus and Eurydice) create tension by exposing fear and revealing the nature of irrationality inherent in all people. Only women could provoke such investigation into the tenderest parts of humanity. After all, in these ancient times, where women are reproached and sent back into the home for criticizing the war, men very likely would have been killed for treason.

Eteocles’ interplay with the women sheds light on the complexities of his own emotional state and the inner battles he’s fighting in the midst of his greatest ambition—risking death and the destruction of his city to retain the power of the crown. He cries out in frustration, “Where womankind has power, no man can house. Where womankind feeds panic, ruin rules alike in house and city.”  Eteocles denounces “womankind” along with his own fears by rationalizing, “with plans prepared,” in order to move into battle and meet his fate.

Eteocles’ failed attempts at quieting the wailing Theban women and escaping his fate is reminiscent of a game of groundhog at a carnival. There is comedy within tragedy and teetering on that thin line between, humanity is most earnestly revealed. My journey with Seven has led me here.”

THE THEBAN CHRONICLES continues Monday, June 21 at the Cafe Royale (800 Post Street, San Francisco, at Leavenworth) with a reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, directed by Maryanne Olson. Parts III and IV, Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, directed by Sara Judge, and Sophocles’ Antigone directed by Amy Clare Tasker, perform June 28 and 29 respectively. All shows begin at 8pm, and are free to attend.

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