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.