ElAnt v1n8 - REVIEWS - Aristophanes Wasps in Detroit

Volume 1, Number 8
April 1994

Aristophanes' Wasps
Translated and Directed by Peter Meineck,
Aquila Productions Spring Tour,
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI,
31 March, 1994

Reviewed by Sallie Goetsch,
Department of Classical Studies,
University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, 
MI 48109-1003,
e-mail: sgoetsch@umich.edu

Is it possible to produce Aristophanes with a cast of four? When the four are Peter Meineck's Aquila Productions touring company, the answer is an emphatic 'yes.' Last years Wasps tour had a cast of six, but the production at Wayne State showed no holes or absences. Indeed, the energy of the players was so abundant that more actors would have seemed superfluous.

The key to the production's success was the degree to which the actors involved the audience. When Procleon (as Philocleon was renamed) was imprisoned in the house, the 'house' in question was the auditorium, and Procleon stood on a pair of seats and shouted across the spectators to the lead wasp on the stage. When he attempted to escape by hiding under a donkey, he enlisted a young man to play the donkey, giving him a donkey mask made from a paper grocery bag. The sting with which the wasps (represented by a single actor in a black-and-yellow knitted vest) threatened those of differing political outlook (meaning the audience) was a super- soaker water rifle, and we were soaked all right, even to the back rows. The front rows were handed kazoos so they could make buzzing wasp noises, and various people were selected to throw things--such as an inflatable shark--onto the stage at appropriate moments. Balloons floated down during one partying moment. By the end of the play the entire audience was involved in the komos , reading the lines of the closing song from a blackboard: 'We're having an orgy/ We're having a ball/ Doin' the crab dance/ Against the wall'.

Though there were a few modern interjections to cater to the Detroit audience ('That's Cleon , not Clinton '), the topicality of the play was not much altered. Despite sometimes drastic cuts in the text, Aristophanes was alive and well. Here and there some obscure reference would be supplemented by an actor crossing the stage bearing a sign which read 'Greek joke: please laugh', but such intervention was rarely necessary. Litigiousness is alive and well in the United States, and no one had any trouble relating to Procleon's obviously sexual lust for participating in trials. Nor was Anticleon's (Bdelycleon's) desire to get his father to live a life in keeping with his income at all foreign to the locals: there are plenty of lawyers and CEOs in Detroit who are descended from blue- collar auto workers. It's a generation gap alive and well in Greece, too, as the contest between Westernization and tradition goes on.

Though the house was fairly full, it's almost certain that the crowd would have been bigger if people had known to expect a production as wild as the Rocky Horror Picture Show . Last year's tour of Wasps was so successful that Aquila decided to take it on the road again. Even so, it's not always easy to rope an American audience into coming to a Greek play, even when admission is free and the company is very English. Anyone who stays home from an Aquila production because heshe thinks it's going to be boring is drastically wrong. Far from being tedious and correct, Meineck's Wasps is not for the faint of heart.

Sallie Goetsch
e-mail: sgoetsch@umich.edu

COPYRIGHT NOTE: Copyright remains with authors, but due 
reference should be made to this journal if any part of the above is 
later published elsewhere.

Electronic Antiquity Vol. 1 Issue 8 - April 1994
edited by Peter Toohey and Ian Worthington
ISSN 1320-3606