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By Monika Cefis (edited by Jiri Tucker) October 27, 2011

To Chop, Cook, and Eat a Loved One

The Dawson College Theatre program's premiere of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s theatrical drama, The Love of the Nightingale, tells a story fit for Halloween. A contemporary reworking of an Ancient Greek myth, the college's second studio tells of the rape of Philomela by her brother-in-law Tereus, and of the gruesome acts of revenge that follow.

Director W. Steven Lecky does not disappoint. In fact, he depicts Ancient Classical Greece in all of its glory with mesmerizing make up and costumes that embody this surreal tale to perfection and with a stunning set design bringing to life the beauty of the distant shores of Thrace and Mediterranean Athens. Set to the incredibly moving and original soundtrack the actors play out the complex emotions of each persona with tremendous skill.

The myth on which the play bases itself, The Rape of Philomela, has been around for centuries because of the power of the female characters’ horrific acts of revenge that parallel with a man’s savage violation of rape. When Procne, sister of Philomela, is aware of her husband’s crime, she kills their son with the help of her sibling. She then proceeds in chopping him and cooking him in a stew that she eventually serves to her husband for supper. By doing so, she aptly reverses the term of the original rape by forcing an innocent body into Tereus, by forever silencing a part of him and by creating the tomb for his son and the love he had for him inside his own body.


Philomena opened his (the son) throat with the knife. While the limbs were still warm, and retained some life, they tore them to pieces. Part bubble in bronze cauldrons, part hiss on the spit: and the distant rooms drip with grease. The wife invites the unsuspecting Tereus to the feast, and giving out that it is a sacred rite, practised in her country, where it is only lawful for the husband to be present, she sends away their followers and servants. Tereus eats by himself, seated in his tall ancestral chair, and fills his belly with his own child.

-Ovid, Metamorphosis, book VI

Sometimes violence in a play reflects events that haunt its society. Another Greek play, Philoctetes, opened in Athens 409 BCE amidst the end of a war between Athens and Sparta that cost dearly in human lives. It is a play that starkly examines difficult moral choices. By the same playwright, Sophocles, though lost, Philomena’s story also connects. Representing the good maiden minding the home and her noble city of Athens, she is raped by Tereus. But he is more then just a brother-in-law; he is a foreigner. A Thracian. A Barbarian. Suddenly the issue strikes too close to home and the violence scares us. When he cuts out her tongue to silence her, we are terrified. It seems as though the violated are brutally silenced too often -not just in 5th century BC but also today. We want revenge, so the chorus pushes and follows like embedded reporters playing up the audience, forcing us to think about the devastating consequences which derive from violence.

The play was timed to coincided with Dawson College's conference on youth and violence, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the school’s tragic shooting.  So timely seems Wertenbaker’s, though somewhat more censored, adaptation of a tale which ideally revolves around the overall theme of the event. In the original legend, revenge appears to be the only way to retrieve a certain sense of balance. Whereas, in The Love of the Nightingale, the playwright includes a chorus of three narrators that denounce the vicious acts that are committed. There are no solutions as the fairy tale end implies, but tragedy heals. Laurent Pitre, a Professional Theater student who embodied one of these narrators, affirms that violence is often hidden to the public eye, whether it be within families or communities, and that the best way of settling things out is by simply talking about it.

For those who seek more of Dawson College’s performances, do not miss the third year students' rendition of  William Shakespeare'sThe Merchant of Venice. The Bard, like Wertenbaker, borrows countlessly from the vocabulary of Classical mythology. Students of Classics might detect reference to Jason’s Fleece, to the theme of disapproved marriage, and also to Orpheus, master of the Lyre. The Merchant of Venice premieres November 14th.

About the author

Monika Cefis is a Dawson College student who writes for the Plant.  Jiri Tucker teaches Classics at Dawson College. 

Comments

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    Amanda Holowathy

    November 2, 2011

    This myth reminds me of the movie Gladiator and how similiar the two are. The Love of the Nightingale is a story based on rape by an in law and how revenge is seeked. In Gladiator, a roman is betrayed and ends up having his family murdered. So he becomes a gladiator and seeks revenge within rome.

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    Nicolas Galinski

    November 2, 2011

    although this play does sound quite interesting, i am not too fond of the way traditional greek theater was performed. Last year i watched a play of Oedipus the King, or Oedipus Rex, and i am sorry to say that i quite nearly fell asleep.  The plot in itself i think however is really good and i preferred rather to read the play.
    This myth also reminds me of an episode of south park in which one of the main character takes revenge by killing his enemy’s parents then feeds them to him in a delicious pot of chilly.This get more ironic in a later episode when he learns that he and his enemy actually shared the same father. Just as Procne loses a child in order to take revenge, the character in south park loses a father.

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    Elsia G.

    November 2, 2011

    This play defenetaly displays the “tragedy” theme of the Greek theater. It is much like Sophocles’ other tragedy plays, when the character kills his father, and sleeps with his mother, or if the character kills many others. It always seems like a character(s) seek(s) revenge and the play always ends in someone’s death.This theme of tragedy is quite gruesome but at the same time it is intriguing to see how these characters plan out their revenge.

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    AnthonyParasuco

    November 3, 2011

    This play seems to have all the elements of a good horror story and truly is appopriate for this time of year. However, I must say that the violence suggested in the play is gruesome beyond anything people today are accustomed to: the subject matter itself is very graphic, depicting the rape of a family member as well as a mother killing her own son to then feed it to her husband. Furthermore, I find that this play is surprisingly graphic, and people might assume that plays or movies have gotten much more violent over time, yet a play that took place millenias ago can go up against any horror film we know today.

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    Kai L

    November 3, 2011

    This play and most others from its time period have plot lines that can be considered very sad and morbid. This may make them unappealing to us, and this play even had to be altered to a more tame version suitable for people of today to watch. Still, many people are drawn to horror stories, to help them with their own difficult times and to attain the thrilling feeling of being scared without the long term affects of things that may scare them in their own lives. This goes to show that even though society has changed so much since this play was written, human nature has not.

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    EmilyM

    November 3, 2011

    I was told that the plot of this play was gruesome, but I definitely wasn’t expecting such a horror story! It really shows how far betrayal can push someone and the extent to which one can go to seek revenge! I’ve learned a bit about Greek tragedy in my Classics class and the fact that this play was based on the myth of The Rape of Philomela really shows how horrific Greek tragedy was.This play sounds very interesting and really puts you in the Halloween spirit!

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    steph laurent

    November 3, 2011

    This play reminds me of the play “Medea” by Euripides as the female character murders her children to take revenge on her husband. Betrayal and disappointment are both main themes in these plays and what drives the characters to commit such actions. It represents greek tragedies but it is gruesome. I heard about the play but I never read it and it seems interesting. Many of the tragedies I’ve read was in my english class and without that class I wouldn’t have known about these playwriters and treagedies.
    St├ęphanie L.

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    yasmine5147

    November 3, 2011

    I knew that greek tragedies were not the happiest pieces of art that exist but I certainly did not suspect that such horror was described in those plays. But I find it interesting that at that time, people were not afraid to show what the human race is capable of, even to the limit of enjoying it. It is also a good thing that such subjects remain, even today, interesting topics that we can all discuss such betrayal and revenge that we have all experienced differently.
    Yasmine Dore

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    Jennifer N.

    November 6, 2011

    Although I know The Rape of Philomela is only a myth, I can’t imagine myself killing my son, chop him into small pieces, cook it and feed it to my husband.  Even if what he did was extremely wrong, what the mother did is even worse.  I must admit that Greek tragedy knew how to give us the shivers.  Probably because violence in plays reflects what the society fears of.

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    SabrinaS

    November 7, 2011

    This is a play I wouldnt be able to watch since I cant handle this kind of gruesome stuff. I heard that the play was violent but I honestly didn’t expect it to be this bad. I understand the woman wanted revenge, but in this case I believe she went way too far… to the point of killing your own child and feeding it to you husband? I strongly agree with, “whether it be within families or communities, that the best way of settling things out is by simply talking about it.” This also reminds me of the “Saw” movies. A man seeking for revenge by making people suffer gruesome deaths because they commit “bad” things such as fraud, cheating, rape, drugs, murder, lieing, etc…

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