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Diversity and Greek Tragedy: A Reimagining

Greek tragedies are being reimagined for diverse modern audiences. These new productions use the ancient plays’ timeless themes — family, war, retribution, loyalty, fate — to explore “the ways in which unfavorable social circumstances can limit opportunity and equal justice,” according to Professor Melinda Powers (John Jay College of Criminal Justice).

Powers looked at modern productions of Greek drama produced by and for under-represented communities for her book, Diversifying Greek Tragedy on the Contemporary US Stage. Her survey includes two contemporary Harlem-based companies, Take Wing and Soar Productions and the Classical Theatre of Harlem, that staged productions of Medea and The Trojan Women for mostly African-American audiences.

Powers also looked at shows staged by Split Britches and the Faux-Real Theatre Company. In these feminist productions, women play all the roles, flipping ancient conventions where men cross-dressed to play women. Women cross-dressing to portray men creates a “sophisticated feminist reclaiming” of “male-constructed, male-performed creations of real-life women in on the ancient stage,” Powers wrote.

Aquila Theatre and Outside the Wire used Greek tragedy to raise awareness about veterans’ issues. Outside the Wire founder Bryan Doerries says “these ancient plays timelessly and universally depict the psychological and physical wounds inflicted upon warriors by war.”

Finally, Luis Alfaro, a MacArthur “genius” fellow, adapted Electra, Oedipus the King and Medea to “comment on inner-city Latinx communities that struggle with problems such as gang violence, domestic abuse, and recidivism.” Alfaro’s inspiration for his Electricidad was meeting a 13-year-old Yaqui Indian girl in Arizona who killed her mother after the mother hired a hitman to kill her drug-dealing father. Alfaro connects the Greek drama’s “murder for justice motif” to domestic violence and gang violence.

In Oedipus El Rey, Alfaro “replaces the ancient oracles that governed Oedipus’ destiny with a culture of poverty.” Alfaro’s Oedipus “is not inherently bad, nor did he do anything to deserve his fate,” Powers wrote. “Instead, factors beyond his control influenced his fate as a perpetual offender and prisoner.”

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Diversifying Greek Tragedy on the Contemporary US Stage
Oxford University Press, 2019

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Melinda Powers (Associate Professor, English) | Profile 1