SHOW: AJAX, the madness
GROUP: Attis Theatre
ATTENDED: Fri., Sept. 6, 2013, 8 p.m., Wilma Theater
CLOSES: Sat., Sept. 7
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: "A contemporary study on war's paranoia… AJAX, the madness dives deep into the murderous insanity of a bloodstained hero at the core of the tragedy."
WE THINK: It begins in darkness, out of which comes a quiet sound not immediately identifiable as laughter, the lights slowly come on, getting brighter as the three actors on their knees begin to laugh louder and louder, until they peak and their noise begins a slow descent into a sound not indistinguishable from weeping, then clearly weeping, softer and softer until you’re back where you started, and are no longer sure it wasn’t weeping all along. This is the first 15 minutes of the play.
You would do yourself a favor in not trying to subject Ajax, the madness to college English class style analysis as you watch it. For one, it’s a play whose primary language is the body. Secondly, it is an attempt to reach a particular type of ecstasy irreducible to comprehension, not exactly analogous to bliss or despair, and which is achieved by intensity, repetition (to the point of exhaustion), and radical decontexualization.
The how and why of Ajax’s madness are largely irrelevant; the play has no real interest in the machinations of Athena, or in Ajax’s rivalry with Odysseus and the royal House Atreides, which are the background of Sophocles’ play. Instead this hones in on the madness itself, repeating again and again the brief story of Ajax’s deranged slaughter of a herd of livestock while believing they are his human enemies, leaving open the possibility that this is a man who found in war his own capacity for cruelty, and fell in love with it, and that his shame over this love drove him mad. We would call it PTSD today, and director Theodoros Terzopoulos has today (and anytime really, thus the lack of context) very much in mind. Why else suddenly start playing Pink Floyd’s “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert?”
For the same reason, I suppose, as the laugh/cry, or the pink pumps eventually used as daggers, or the repetition, to get you to stop trying to understand and instead see an incarnation in the most arresting image of the play, a man reduced to a suicide where he repeatedly stabs his abdomen, sending the tears and saliva and sweat dripping off his head. No redemption in sight, no grace, just his fear, his darkness.
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