November 3, 2008

A play about the Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 2:15 pm in Elgin Marbles

A new play aims to tell a new story, based around the story of the Elgin Marbles.

The Vancouver Province

Succumbing to Influence
Director says starting fresh is satisfying
Lynn Mitges, The Province
Published: Monday, November 03, 2008

In a brand-new work, director Katrina Dunn has to balance pathos, drama and farce in real-time and in one place.

Dunn, artistic director for Touchstone Theatres, says that this form of theatre is unusual and part of the charm of Victoria playwright Janet Munsil’s new work. Influence eschews the common filmic fashion, which is characterized by back-and-forth snippets of time.

“It’s a real task in that sensibility because we’ve almost forgotten how to write like that,” says Dunn.

Influence is the story of John Keats (Daniel Arnold), who abandons a career in medicine to become a poet. He is urged on by his mentor, Benjamin Hayden (Mike Stack), and looks to the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles for inspiration.

The Elgin Marbles are the fragments of the Parthenon taken from Greece by England’s Lord Elgin from 1801 to 1812. Elgin was criticized for his actions and eventually exonerated by the British government. The legality of the move is still questioned, although the sculptures remain on display in the Duveen Gallery in the British Museum in London.

The scene is set for Athena (Colleen Wheeler), goddess of wisdom, to arrive in the yellow-fogged London and reclaim her statues — and seek revenge. Hephaestus (Donald Adams), the god of forge, and Apollo (Frank Zotter), the god of poetry and medicine, also arrive with their own tasks at hand.

“Largely, the play is structured around Keats’ journey and he’s the character that the audience likes the most. Hayden is also a major character but he’s not so much where the heart of the audience is,” she says.

“A lot of the play is about the relationship between Keats as the protegé and Haydon as mentor and what happens when you start to outgrow your mentor,” says Dunn.

“One of the major themes of the play is what is the nature of artistic inspiration,” she says.

“It comes to a climax in Act 2 where there is a big transformation — the world of the gods and the world of the mortals intersect and there’s a great revelation.”

It forces us to ask what influences us, she says, but also raises the question of ownership.

“It brings up a lot of things that we’re grappling with in Western society. What is appropriate and what do we have the right to take? What do we give back? Who owns art and civilization, or does anyone own it?”

Both Keats and Hayden are historical figures and playwright Munsil spent a great deal of time researching both the characters and the Greek gods.

“She doesn’t whip things off fast,” says Dunn. “She’s been working on this for about 31/2 years.”

Dunn says this work is a treat. “Working on new plays is the hardest thing and the most satisfying when it’s successful because everybody takes a sense of ownership, it really feels as though we are creating this all together,” she says.

“So when it premieres, it’s tough because Canadian plays, if they don’t succeed on opening night, they go into the remainders bin. There’s a lot of pressure on the producers to do your best so the plays really live well on that first night so it has the opportunity to have a future life.”

– – –

On Stage
Where: Performance Works,1218 Cartwright St., Granville Island
When: Nov. 6-15
Tickets: $26 adults; $24 seniors; $20 students at 604-687-2787

The Vancouver Province

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