Saturday, October 10, 2009
Charles Mee's quirky fable Big Love is a reworking of the Greek legend of the Danaids, drawing in part on the earliest extant fragment of Western drama, The Suppliants. It's a story of the war between men and women.
In that text Aeschylus presents about the first third of the story of the 50 daughters of Danaeus and the 50 sons of his twin brother Aegyptus, all of the youngsters being the great-great-grandchildren of the union of Zeus with Io, a mortal princess. The women reject their suitor cousins and flee with their father Danaeus to Argos, where they seek and receive sanctuary by vote of the Argive citizens. The ships of Aegyptus arrive, a herald and soldiers try to drag the women away from the Argive shrine to Zeus, and the King of Argos rebuffs them. The young women rejoice, the Aegyptians withdraw with threats, and the manuscript ends just as things are getting interesting.
In the legend, Danaeus eventually yields his daughters to the 50 young men, but he secretly instructs them to kill their new husbands on their wedding nights. All obey accept one, who has fallen in love with her man. She's brought to trial but successfully defended by Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Although it's a fragment, Aeschylus's text is heady stuff. In Morshead's 19th century translation, for example, the chorus of young women laments,
I dare not, I dare not abide: my heart yearns, eager to fly;
And dark is the cast of my thought; I shudder and tremble for fear.
My father looked forth and beheld; I die of the sight that draws near.
And for me be the strangling cord, the halter made ready by Fate,
Before to my body draws nigh the man of my horror and hate.
Before I will own him as lord, as handmaid to Hades I go!
Aeschylus was setting up conflicts involving forced matrimony, the guests' right to hospitality and asylum and the inviolability of sacred places -- with a strong emphasis on the honors and obligations of democracy.
Charles Mee proclaims himself a "reworker." His website makes available the texts of his own plays, including this one, for potential transformation and re-use. He explains the concept: "Please feel free to take the plays from this website and use them freely as a resource for your own work: that is to say, don't just make some cuts or rewrite a few passages or re-arrange them or put in a few texts that you like better, but pillage the plays as I have pillaged the structures and contents of the plays of Euripides and Brecht and stuff out of Soap Opera Digest and the evening news and the internet, and build your own, entirely new, piece--and then, please, put your own name to the work that results. "
Read more at AustinLiveTheatre.com. . . .