Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Phaedra's Love: The Greek Myth Gets a Raunchy and Paunchy Reimagining

Posted By on Thu, Nov 1, 2012 at 9:30 AM

Junk food and television: staples of every Greek tragedy. - GABBY BATTISTA
  • Gabby Battista
  • Junk food and television: staples of every Greek tragedy.

Do It Live!'s production of Phaedra's Love opens with a portrait of putrefaction. So copious are the stage's dirty laundry, pizza boxes, and partly finished bags of cereal that towers have sprouted from the undergrowth. At the center of this detritus cityscape (the set design is by Kirsten Royston and Jessica Chaffin) lounges Hippolytus (Michael Zavala), wearing tighty-whities that aren't so tighty and a wifebeater stretched translucent by his ballooning belly. The television glows; Hippolytus watches comatose, not even noticing when the pizza he's eating falls out of his mouth. He gorges, watches television, and jerks off at the same time, catching his cum with perhaps the same sock he likes to sneeze into. (All this is hilariously underscored by the techno stylings of Catfish Deity.) Look carefully, though, and you'll see one detail that doesn't fit with its filthy surroundings: This slob wears a crown atop his head.

See also:

An Iliad at Berkeley Rep: Three Shades of Grey

Bruja at the Magic Theatre: A Contemporary, Bewitching Take on the Plight of Immigrants

Sarah Kane's 1996 play shares a basic storyline with the Greek myth on which it's based: It's about royalty, and it doesn't end well. Prince Hippolytus inspires love and lust in his stepmother Phaedra (Whitney Thomas), he does not requite, and both, the tragic plot dictates, must die, with Phaedra's husband Theseus (Aaron Teixeira) and daughter Strophe (April Fritz) as collateral damage. But in few other ways does this grotesque drama resemble its inspiration -- starting with a Hippolytus who is "difficult, moody, cynical, bitter, fat, decadent, spoilt."

A two-year-old company founded by recent S.F. State alums, Do It Live! has dedicated its new season, of which Phaedra's Love is the first play, to the age-old prerogative of youth: to "Vandalize the Classics." This production, under the astute direction of Ben Landmesser, takes its vandalizing very seriously. There are no gods watching over Sarah Kane's dramatic universe. There is no concern for audience comfort, no decorum ensuring the sex and violence are tucked safely offstage or merely suggested. There is only an insidious destructive force that slowly consumes all that we see, reducing human characters to carnivorous dogs.

Not that they were very human to begin with. If Phaedra and Strophe speak some lines that wouldn't be too out of place in a Greek tragedy ("I'll die for this family"), the men are pure nihilists. Hippolytus, the center of the play, either hates or is bored by everything. When Phaedra throws herself at him, he responds, "Fuck someone else; imagine it's me." Zavala plays his part with extreme naturalism, rarely raising his voice above a mutter, barely needing to twitch a muscle to make his sneers froth with disgust. He contrasts starkly with Fritz's Strophe and Thomas's Phaedra, whose professions of love and honor expand to fill Bindlestiff Studios. The disparity in styles at times makes the women look silly, but that's part of the point: In Sarah Kane's world, conviction and faith are foolish. Yet in Do It Live!'s hands, that world is ghastly fun to watch.

Phaedra's Love continues through Nov. 17 at Bindlestiff Studios, 185 Sixth St. (at Howard), S.F. Admission is $15-$20.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About The Author

Lily Janiak


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"