Three years ago, director Sean Graney told his friends that he planned to adapt all 32 surviving Greek tragedies—by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus—into one theatre behemoth. “People were like, ‘Are you insane? You couldn’t pay me to go to that,’ ” recalls Graney, a Ravenswood resident.
But the 41-year-old founder of the theatre company the Hypocrites had a head start. He had already adapted Sophocles’s seven tragedies into a play titled These Seven Sicknesses. “After Sophocles, I started working on Aeschylus’s tragedies, trying to figure out how I could make them into a cohesive whole,” Graney says. “At some point, I was like, ‘Well, there’s only 32 tragedies total and I’m already, what, a dozen plays in? How hard can it be to just to do all of them?’ ”
Pretty hard. At least in Graney’s original plan for a 20-hour event. “Diane Borger [producer at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts] told me there was no model in existence that would make this financially feasible,” Graney recalls. “I went home, checked her math, and she was right. I cried. A lot.”
But Graney kept plugging away, eventually shaping the idea into All Our Tragic, a nine-hour saga (with seven breaks totaling three hours) of slaughter, sex, and sublimity. Then, in October 2012, Harvard called. The university had awarded him a fellowship that included $70,000 and a group of grad students who would perform whatever work he produced.
He conceived a four-act play with each act representing a theme: physics, politics, patriotics, and poetics. “There wasn’t a eureka moment,” says Graney. “I grouped all the plays by narratives, and once I had done that, the themes really began emerging.”
Physics features monsters and myths, while politics focuses on Thebes and urban society. Patriotics combines seven plays, all of which deal with war, and poetics tells the stories of Agamemnon, Orestes, and the Furies.
The result is a cheeky, contemporary take that still boasts ancient Greek gravitas. Set in an abandoned factory, All Our Tragic features 23 actors in 65 roles, including monsters, dozens of gods, and a chorus of cleaning ladies, along with a whole lot of blood (see “Death by the Numbers,” below).
Like a modern-day Dionysian festival, the play will be full of unfettered feasting, drinking, and sex, too. (“Beer, we’ll have lots of beer,” says Graney.) The production will include a pillow area where those who may tire of patricide can nap.
But more than the delicious diversity of deaths, All Our Tragic is about life, says Graney. “Democracy started out as people discussing these really fundamental ideas of how we should treat others and how we want to be treated. I want to capture some of that sense of community the Greeks first built, just a little, in Wicker Park.”
Go: All Our Tragic runs August 1 to October 5 at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave.
For info: the-hypocrites.com
Death by the Numbers
Mortal coils are shuffled off 63 times in All Our Tragic. Here’s how.
|In battle||Stabbing||Suicide||Umbrella||Beaten to death||Head bashing|
|Horse stomping||Mercy killing||Poison||Beheading||Buried alive||Burned to death|
|Eagle attack||Ritual sacrifice||Other|