According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


A Greek war hero is visited by comrades who abandoned him on an island 10 years ago. A virtual quilt of various Philoktetes myths, this production starts off putt-putting, but eventually revs up to embody the hubris and the delicious drama that one should expect from a Greek tragedy. From left, Will Badgett, Jason Lew (on screen) and Louis Cancelmi in John Jesurun’s update of Sophocles’ “Philoktetes.” Photo by Paula Court.


Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Like a true Greek myth, John Jesurun's Philoktetes drips of power-infused speeches, arrogance, and a furious dance of wills. The dialogue, lyrical and well-crafted, is immediately established as one of the production's greatest strengths, even though the under-projected voice of Greek war hero Philoktetes (Louis Cancelmi) doesn't carry it well at first. That is the only mark on Cancelmi's performance, however. His Philoktetes is as menacing and focused as Zachary Quinto's Sylar from NBC's Heroes, and he even looks like Quinto himself. And keeping that menace going is an astounding feat, seeing as Philoktetes has been emasculated, cobbled, and stripped of all his glory by the gods.

On his way to Troy and suited with Heracles' poisonous bow and arrows, Philoktetes gets bitten by a snake that incapacitates him. His pain is so overbearing that his comrades, including Odysseus, abandon him on the island of Lemnos in solitude. After ten years of trying to sack Troy with little advancement, they learn from an oracle that they need Heracles' bow and arrows to claim victory. The play begins when Odysseus (Will Badgett) and Achilles' son Neoptolemus (a cheeky and untethered Jason Lew) encounter Philoktetes' shade. Or do they?

Instead of a broken or dead Philoktetes, Odysseus and Neoptolemus find him to be as strong and as defiant of the gods as before. His festering wound notwithstanding, he shows no weaknesses, hurling insults at his two visitors not only for what they did to him a decade ago, but because he knows their new purpose. And he's not giving up the goods, despite a valiant show of brawn and authority on Odysseus' part, and an implied sexual connection with a Neoptolemus that is less savage and barbaric than as usually portrayed in mythology (but similar to Sophocles' version in his own Philoctetes).

Jesurun's vision for the setting incorporates several media components and near-optical illusions that are fantastic for this play. Three throne-like chairs orbit a representation of rushing waters in the center of the stage that is also reflected on the "ceiling." It is a great way to illustrate the fate of Philoktetes as well as each character's unwillingness to yield to the other. A camera lens magnifies the faces of the actors upstage, creating a larger than life depiction to match everything else. The visuals are appreciated and needed because save for one well-choreographed power exchange scene between Odysseus and Philoktetes, there is very little action to cut through the verbosity. But it's a good thing that the words delight.

Although Philoktetes moves slowly in some parts and relies heavily on words, Jesurun successfully gels contemporary references with classical ones, making it accessible to the audience if they happen to get confused by the poetry. The direction by Jesurun is strong, as demonstrated by the justly inflated performances of the cast. The production also makes a good case for the interchangeability of life and death, and the consideration of the unimaginable. Cursed and made to suffer alone, Philoktetes is robbed of his glory as a general. Yet, not even a deserted island seems to hold him back from being the captivating character that he is.

Through October 28th.
Tickets: $25, $.99 Sundays.
Soho Rep: 46 Walker Street, New York, NY 10013

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