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ION
by Euripides, translated by David Lan.
Directed by Ethan McSweeny
Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW .

Review by Grace Cavalieri


Any time a theater piece opens with a red satin banner lowering a godlike figure to the stage, and puppets enact the preamble, in a few sweet gestures, I praise the Good Greek Gods before even knowing the plot. Very few people know this play but we do know that Euripides was the most innovative of the Greek dramatists, perhaps the most iconoclastic. However, in this drama there is no condemnation, more a civic tribute to Athens in an historical time of ongoing war with Sparta.

The play takes place in Delphi during the course of a single day. The play ends with the words “I will never forget what happened today, tomorrow.” The occasion is ours as well, for the audience has witnessed loss, revenge, near death, betrayal, joy, selfishness, selflessness, fear, courage --- about every human attribute, as well as some mythic ones. Queen Creusa comes to the Oracle to ask what happened to her abandoned baby, and to find if she will ever have another child; her husband Xuthus (Sam Tsoutsouvas) comes to find whether he will become a father; and Ion (Keith Eric Chappelle,) caretaker of the temple, would like to know who he is, and who his parents are. That Apollo is the father of Creusa’s child fires our dramatic questions. The Greeks had convictions, and surely Apollo would not destroy the capacity to love, would he? And don’t the gods know the consequences of their actions, as they do the mortals they control? What is the possibility for faith if a god can impregnate a woman and then leave her to mourn the loss of her infant? What is the divine plan here? Creseus (beautifully played by Lisa Harrow) moans, “The worst word woman ever heard (is) what am I left with?”

The challenges facing the characters are lightened by present day tourists intruding onto the Delphi. They will become a Greek chorus, sometimes harmonic singers, commentators, and sympathizers. Ethan Sweeny is the best choice for such direction as he has charmed the piece with contemporary (American) culture, opening the experience more to anticipation, and to the question: What is the physical consequence of anything and everything we are seeing on stage? Although it is threatened, actual tragedy is not seen on stage, although plotting, despair, and a little plan to poison, hasten the action.

Ion is, we find, the grandchild of Zeus, and moves within his own mythology, even though surrounded by the modern elements that cross time and realities. All solutions are always in the language, “I found what I sought, “although sometimes the characters know what they want but do not know what they’ve lost, or when. Only Creusa knows. At the conclusion, she clasps her found son, Ion, saying, “Tears wet my cheeks, now wet yours.” Xanthus has become a father and he need never know the child is Apollo’s, not his. And just as we wait for the temple doors to open and for Apollo to launch the closing message, instead, down descends the gorgeous Athena shimmering from the rafters, floating midair. To end with the goddess was Euripides’ gift to his Athenians. And, of course, with the marvel of stagecraft, an unexpected gift to us.


Ion, by Euripides, translated by David Lan. Directed by Ethan McSweeny. Costumes, Rachel Myer; lighting, Tyler Micoleau; music direction and sound score, Michael Roth; choreography, Peter Pucci; voice and text, Ellen O'Brien. With Floyd King, Tana Hicken, Lise Bruneau, Kate Debelack, Laiona Michelle, Patricia Santomasso, Rebecca Baxter, Caleb Jones. 90 minutes. Through April 12 at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW .202-547-1122. Shakespeare Theatre.org
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