Sunday, July 15, 2012

Amphitrion, The Infinities, Identity, Fidelity

It was during our senior year in high school, in the last week approaching Christmas break, that our English teacher surprisingly took us to a showing of Amphitrion (link).  We were giddy about being seniors, anxious for the "free life" of college campuses, or at least for the opportunity to work for ourselves.  Actor's Theater of Louisville had some professional actors, but to us they seemed like the young college students who would soon be our contemporaries.

My head was full of mush, but I didn't realize it back then.  I needed to work on myself, but I felt confident and superior and full of potential.  There was a suppressed sexual element to it, no doubt.  And an evolutionary oedipal and rebellious element.  All a part of the giddiness.

The play was held in a downtown loft.  The sexy and scantily clad actresses and actors ran up and down the aisles, and sometimes they looked us in the eye as they spoke their lines.  It was a performance like none I had seen before nor would not see again until I saw A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To The Forum decades later at a dinner theater.  Amphitrion is that kind of a farce, adapted with seemingly impromptu burlesque and slapstick.

At its deepest level, like Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Amphitrion addresses the issues of identity, fidelity, and the sometimes jackassed nature of humans.  Both plays have mythic gods playing interference with human relationships.  Part of the comedy is in the rude awakening, the double-take of surprise when humans run up against the uncanny.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.  The actors ply their cases directly to the audience.  We'd seen this before--for instance, Dobie Gillis did it again and again under the statue of The Thinker--but that was television.

Amphitrion has its echoes elsewhere in our literature.  Shakespeare read it.  Most recently, John Banville used it in his novel, The Infinities, and Marie Phillips wrote a much more risque version in Gods Behaving Badly.  The Louisville Courier-Journal has a feature today on the Kentucky's Shakespeare Festival held annually each summer in Central Park.

Myths are something which never happened but are always happening.  The old stories never die.

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