It is easy to see why the Greek tragedy “The Persians” is not performed very often: event-wise, nothing actually happens.
The play revolves around the Persian court anxiously awaiting the return of their leader, Xerxes, from the Battle of Salamis, where his impetuous orders have just caused the entire Persian army to perish at the hands of the Greeks.
In the opening scene, three members of the Persian council (Cambrian Thomas-Adams ’13, B.J. White ’13 and Faizaan Kisat ’12) are swathed in light as they stride purposefully across the stage, halting in front of a regally adorned table. Upon stopping, the councilmen proceed to discuss their predictions of the outcome of the Battle of Salamis. Their discussion begins to die down just as Queen Atossa (Ali Viterbi), mother of Xerxes and widow of the late king Darius, emerges from the palace to share a disturbing dream and seek the council’s advice. She is still present when a messenger arrives from Salamis to relay the terrible fate that has struck the Persian army. From this point onwards, the performance mostly consists of the messenger’s reenactment of the events leading up to the Persian defeat, sporadically accentuated by exclamations of shock and moments of grief.
In summary, bad news is forecasted, delivered and mourned at length — although a supernatural visit from Darius, Xerxes’ deceased father, throws in some spice about midway through.
Despite the fact that the plot remains stubbornly action-free, decent acting, well-planned staging and the unique contributions of an emphatic hand drum imbue the show with a spark of life.
Andrew Freeburg ’13 transitions between his three separate roles as the messenger, Darius and Xerxes with emphatic confidence and unfaltering strength of voice. Viterbi is slightly less compelling, as her grief-stricken reaction to the Persian defeat appears incoherent and somewhat forced. Nevertheless, every time she spoke, her voice was rife with conviction.
The drums in the background were compelling. Micah Hendler’s ’12 syncopated drum cadences maintain our interest during the otherwise drawn-out soliloquy at the play’s beginning. Hendler’s resounding drum sequences tend to override the actors’ voices, often rendering words inaudible, but they nevertheless capture the emotion of each scene and draw in the audience.
“The Persians” was originally written in the fifth century B.C. by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, and is regarded as the oldest surviving play in the history of Western literature. The staging of the play at Yale marks the debut performance of Ohio State Professor Stratos Constantinidis’ new translation of Aeschylus’ famous work.
“The Persians” will be performed at the Pierson-Davenport Auditorium on Friday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. Admission is free.