The Furies Concludes at Wabash
by Jim Amidon
February 21, 2017
Art and politics meet on stage as the Wabash College Theater Department presents The Furies February 22-25. The ancient Greek drama is being staged in the Experimental Theater with curtain at 8:00 p.m. each evening. Tickets are free, but should be reserved at the Box Office.
The Furies is the last third of the Aeschylus’ trilogy, The Oresteia, which was first performed in almost 2,500 years ago. The translation is by Ted Hughes, but the show’s director, Rory Willats, has given his actors room to tell the old story in modern ways.
“It was important for us not to limit the scope of the language by squeezing it into any particular time period,” said Willats, a senior theater major directing his first main stage production. “To do that, we have aimed to keep it timeless while using mostly Greek references… The play is a long poem and the language is gorgeous. Because no students here have performed this kind of play we got to begin right at the beginning. The actors have done an incredible job developing their own rules for performance.”
The play picks up with Orestes, who has murdered his mother, Clytemnestra, as he heads to Athens. He is tormented by the Furies, who seek vengeance on behalf of Clytemnestra, and eventually goes on trial in front of Athena. Apollo argues for Orestes, and the Furies want justice — and blood — for Clytemnestra’s murder.
“One of the exciting opportunities we had comes from how long it has been since Wabash has staged a Greek play,” Willats said. “We talked about all of the stereotypes as a cast and how we could exploit them.”
It’s a tight little ensemble led by Austin Ridley, who plays Orestes and is haunted endlessly by the Furies — Betsy Swift, Daniel McCarthy, Griffin Levy, and Quinn Cavin.
Zachary Anderson returns to the stage as Athena, while Nathan Muha plays Apollo. Brea Carlson plays the ghost of Clytemnestra and Julia Phipps stars as Pythia.
“The actors playing the Furies have are both profoundly unnerving in their unison and also use their ensemble as a vehicle to highlight their individual strengths as performers. Zachary Anderson has an incredible degree of connectedness to the text. This heightened language lives in his body so well. And Austin Ridley can’t help but perform completely in Orestes’ world. When you watch him in this show you can see the world through his eyes. It’s bizarre—it’s good—and it transports you entirely.”
Willats thinks the timing is terrific — because Wabash hasn’t done a Greek tragedy in a long time and because of the current political climate.
“The Furies is a deeply political show that … goes right back to the beginning — the creation — of democracy and picks apart its merits, its warnings, and what the surprising ingredient is that makes it work. Beyond its prickly relevance to an anxious and divided nation, it is a show about family and what happens when cosmic forces that guide war slip inside the walls of the home. It is a show about the collision of soul and state in the creation of family and how we balance the two.”
Willats thanks his mentor, Jessie Mills, for her assistance in pulling the show together. Bridgette Dreher designed the compact set, and Andrea Bear designed the costumes.
In staging The Furies, Willats chose to use the tiny Experimental Theater because he wanted the audience to have to come face-to-face with the characters and the lofty ideas — physically and symbolically. His goal is to bring intimacy to nebulous concepts.
“One of the ways we find intimacy is through breath,” he says. “We know that the Greeks communicated to their gods through the burning of offerings. The smells of those offerings made it up Olympus, and these inhalations connected the gods to the people. Breathing is the ritual we all partake in that both puts you right back in body, and is also associated with the most sacred, spiritual acts. It became very important to hear the actors breathe — to be in a space where we could feel that breath.”
The Furies deals with heavy concepts — murder and vengeance — and there is a healthy amount of blood shed on stage. But it’s generally suitable for students from teenagers on up.
The Furies at Wabash College features: Betsy Swift, Daniel McCarthy, Griffin Levy, and Quinn Cavin as Furies; Austin Ridley as Orestes; Zachary Anderson as Athena; Nathan Muha as Apollo; Brea Carlson as Clytemnestra; and Julia Phipps as Pythia.
Directed by Rory Willats with assistance from Jessie Mills (Mentor), Bridgette Dreher (Scenic Designer), Andrea Bear (Costume Designer), Aaron Bowersox (Lighting Designer), Aaron Boyd (Stage Manager), Nathan Hubert (Assistant Stage Manager), Tucker Mark (Master Electrician), Brandon Johnson (Lighting Board Operator), Ross Harvey (Run Crew), and Chris McCloskey (Costume Crew).
The Furies Podcast
For this special two-interview episode, "Wabash On My Mind" followed student-director Rory Willats '17 through the production process, discussing his experience in casting his peers, the differences between acting and directing, and his rehearsal style, in pulling together his directorial debut, The Furies, which premiers Feb. 22, 2017, in the Experimental Theater. Simply click the play button below to listen and enjoy.