Classic satire of 'Frogs' still rings true today
Theater students at Seton Hill University open the curtain on a new season by tackling a centuries-old comedy and political satire with messages that still ring true today.
“The Frogs,” by ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, translated by Ian Johnston, is a crowd-pleaser that should leave audiences laughing, according to director Denise Pullen, an associate professor of theater and dance. And, in this presidential election year, she hopes the political messages will motivate patrons to vote.
Set during a time of turmoil in ancient Greece, “The Frogs” takes place in Athens, which has just lost a battle against the Spartans. Dionysus, the god of theater and wine — played by Kelsey Riker, a freshman musical-theater major from Douglassville — decides that only a playwright can bring peace to the country. Dionysus travels to the Underworld to bring the best one back from the dead.
In Hades, playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides stage a poetry competition, and Dionysus must choose the winner.
“We've set up the poetry competition between the playwrights as a cook-off, letting the chorus provoke the ‘studio audience' into offering up their own opinions,” Pullen says.
It's not an easy script for theater students, who have been researching the references to mythology and Greek politics and culture to interpret its message. And, there's language that isn't always clear.
“The text is nothing like I have ever experienced before. It is written in verse and has many ancient Greek references that we had to look up in order to understand,” says Gabriella DeCarli, a sophomore musical-theater student from DuBois and a member of the chorus.
Riker agrees that speaking in verse is a difficult part of the production, which also requires a great deal of stamina from the actors.
Andrew Meholick, a senior theater-performance major from Reynoldsville, portrays Aeschylus. He says the cast is working very hard to comprehend the classic Greek comedy and make the show one that audiences will enjoy.
“Everyone involved with the production is making new discoveries nightly. We want to share that experience,” he says.
The director says her students are having a good time working on “The Frogs.”
“The physical demands of this play and the challenge of the verse have kept things exciting,” Pullen says. “Staging the Greeks is in many ways like staging a musical — with dance and movement, chants, bold-stroke characters, pratfalls, poetry. It's been a lot of work and a lot of laughs.”
Candy Williams is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.