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Euripides' Ion and the Temple He Brooms
Shakespeare Theatre Company's Production of Lesser-Known Greek Drama Stays True to Form but with a Refreshingly Modern Take

April 4, 2009

Keith Eric Chappelle as Ion in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Ion, directed by Ethan McSweeny. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Keith Eric Chappelle as Ion in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Ion, directed by Ethan McSweeny. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Ion is a refreshingly modern take on the usual Greek tragedy which despite the director Ethan McSweeny’s great license to adapt many aspects of the play for the mere fact that it is a virtually unknown work even amongst followers of ancient Greek drama, still stays true to form.   Ion is the story of a young man without a lineage, really without a name, who only knows is that he has grown up at The Oracle of Delphi living a simple yet in many ways blessed existence as one of Apollo’s servants.  His innocence starts to unravel as he begins to question his lineage and finally discovers his parentage, his position in society and in many ways his destiny.

The play opens in the usual manner with a monologue from a tunic laden Hermes set against the backdrop of an ancient Greek temple as is traditional in Greek drama.  Even Ion’s first appearance as a simple servant at Delphi also in a tunic does not indicate that the play will take a decidedly modern turn with the introduction of visitors from Athens, who are portrayed as everything from socialites (Princess Creusa) to American-style tourists (Cruesa's servants/the Chorus).  The oracle’s revelation that Ion is somehow connected to the Athenians has him eventually trading in his tunic and sandals for a two piece suit and wingtips and in many ways losing his innocence, compassion, and almost losing himself.

Yet despite this modern turn, the Director manages to stay true to form on many aspects of Greek drama.  While the dialogue has been updated, the translation and the cadence of the dialogue seems to still pay homage to the ancient Greek.  The Chorus gets quite a large amount of time for its traditional narrative song at the end of the first act, particularly given the rather short run time of 1 hour 35 minutes.

The performances were all quite good with the casting of Keith Eric Chappelle as Ion adding extra depth to the title character as his frustration about his status in society takes on a modern American undertone.  One final nod must be given to the one Greek American member of the cast, Sam Tsoutsouvas, who added some comic relief in his almost parodic portrayal of Xuthus, Creusa’s husband.

In the end this production of Ion is a great way to explore an admittedly lighter piece of Greek drama with a modern feel to it, at an up-tempo pace.

Ion runs at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington, DC, through April 12th, 2009. DCGreeks.com invites you to a special performance on Thursday, April 9th, 2009.  Through a special package deal, we've secured Lower Level Orchestra Seats and a condensed DC Greek version of the wildly popular Acting for Business Professionals Icebreaker/Workshop for only $35.  Can’t make the workshop?  Attend the play for only $20.


Read past feature articles