What do piles of rubble, a wheel chair, snare drums and rollaway beds have in common? They are all on the set of Orestes (Or-est-eez) 2.0, the Performing Arts Department spring production. Originally a play by Euripides, adapted by Charles Mee in 1992 about the aftermath of the Trojan War, and this production brings it into the context of the modern day war in Afghanistan. The story focuses on a military mental institution for American soldiers affected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how society neglects to recognize this illness as legitimate. Director Jessica Heidt said, “Americans have been living in the shadow of a war for years. We’ve been told it’s over, yet the body count continues to rise and additional masses of troops are on the verge of being deployed. Chuck Mee’s Orestes 2.0 looks at this modern crisis, and dissects the idea of duty to examine where the root of the matter lies. [It] is, an in your face work that holds everyone accountable.”
Unlike the original written in 408 B.C.E., this 2010 version performed in a Studio Theater at Lone Mountain from March 4th to the 8th is freshened up by pop culture. The text, setting and costumes have all been altered to fit the modern world. Maro Guevara describes the fusion: “It’s a classical play with rock-music interludes that takes place in Saddam’s Palace and alternates between contemporary and classical dialogue.” Tickets for to Orestes 2.0 are open to the public: $5 with a USF ID and $10 without one.
“The script is a collage of text from the original play, fashion magazines, soap operas, serial killers’ notes and autopsy reports” said Jenny Reed, who plays Electra. But be warned, this play makes no apoligies for the dialogue. Mee intentionally wrote it to be jarring and authentic. “He puts plays together and leaves a lot of jagged edges” stated Reed. Like so many social commentaries, this piece gives the audience as well as the actors the materials to decide for themselves; the cost of war. In between running scenes, Heidt asked her actors to explain what they thought the play was about.
An opportunity will be given to the public audience after every performance to talk about the issues brought up throughout the play. Members for the panel are not yet decided but will be a mix of professors and actors. “Hopefully, the play will provoke people to get pissed off,” Reed said.
Kate Tobie, a patient, agrees that her role in the play has opened her eyes to the difficulties soldiers face post war and commented, “Now the next step is to do something about it.”
Heidt thinks, one way, she can do something is bringing awarness through the processes of making Orestes 2.0 accessible and entertaining to a generation of concert goers. What were originally wrote as two monologues are now songs. Will McCandles worked with each actor’s musical ability, as well as stylistic preferences, to compose the melodies behind the monologues. For self titled Captain Xack (Xach Baumann), this will only be the second time he has ever performed in front of a crowd. “I played a talent show once in Japan,” he said and replied, “but I don’t think that experience makes me at all prepared.” Baumann has no plans to make a habit out of playing for audiences, but is excited to surprise the audience with his melodies. “Technically I’ll be playing a paid gig, but the audience doesn’t know that.” His punk influenced song part, although entertaining, serves an important purpose in the progression of events. “Take Action” urges Menelaus and ultimately the crowd to do something; with lyrics like, “People always think you can take things back,” but often times we can’t. This scene was choosen for song because it is a universal message that everyone in the room needs to hear with an elaborate, entertaining, delivery. “The songs are influenced by pop culture because we want the audience to really listen, and they’ll listen better to something they recognize” said Reed.
Kate Tobie does not consider her self a singer, either, but is just as nervous as her fellow actor. “Before this I was pretty tone deaf. It’s not about how well you sing, but what you can learn from the song” she said. On the chorus of her mellow rock song, all cast members chime in, to lend Tobie vocal support,because the lyrics describes the scene of the play, in one line “The Captain said ‘Welcome home. It’s a nightmare really’.”
Although the story of Orestes is not new, the Performing Arts Department is experimenting with pop culture, with a purpose, which is a weighty discussion. Just because they sing some songs and install text from soap operas, does not mean the performers will not provoke the audience with intellectual thought. On the contrary, the structure of Orestes 2.0 encourages the audience think about how the issues brought up factor into everyday life.