New Adaptation "Stronger Than Arms" Captures The Enduring Power of Greek Drama
By Cristee Cook
Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Undermain Theatre have co-produced a contemporary poetic powerhouse with Stronger Than Arms: a new adaptation of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes. Written by Justin Locklear and Danielle Georgiou, the remixed Greek tragedy freshens up the ancient play with hyper-present themes and DGDG’s storytelling traditions. Stronger Than Arms enjoyed a successful run of live performances at Undermain Theatre, and is now streaming on their virtual platform through October 17, 2021.
Seven Against Thebes is a lesser-known play by Aeschylus which picks up after Oedipus steps down from the throne. In his place, his sons Eteocles and Polynices have agreed to alternate Kingship every other year. When Eteocles refuses to step down, Polynices raises an army to take Thebes by force.
The relevance of Aeschylus’ tragedy is clear from the onset in Stronger Than Arms. The storyline bases itself off of Aeschylus’ original foundation, but quickly morphs into a palpable story of today. We can all relate to it: a city surrounded by fighting, a plague, the rise of women's voices, and a collective desire for better structures for the future. The adaptation examines the pressures and challenges that are placed on the citizens of Thebes, and the generational effects of war. It asks questions: What is the purpose of war? Are we doomed to repeat the patterns of our family/blood line? Can we choose to change?
Stronger Than Arms embraces Aeschylus’ language, which has been described by performance scholars* as: "..a rough and powerful style expressed in a language that sometimes forced him to make up new words. The power of his language is always remarked on by those who know his Greek original, and his translators have often been poets in their own right.”
While staying true to DGDG’s unmistakable style, the story mirrors Aeschylus’ vibe with moments of surreal repetition, characters that appear in psuedo-holographics, and song and dance.
Stronger Than Arms is deftly poetic, delivered with eloquence and passion by the powerful and unified female cast. The language invites deep listening. If you’re able to, you’ll catch dark humor and self-referential jokes about the form and structure of Greek tragedy, and contemporary voices of both playwrights and performers. The performances reach the operatic catharsis of Greek tragedy.
The story is encased in sophisticated, beautiful design. The makeup design by Ryan Matthieu Smith evokes indigenous societies and family tribes. From Amanda Capshaw’s nuanced, Greco-future costume design to the polished and classic set design by Lory Honeycutt, the designers have created a rich visual vocabulary that deepens the story. DGDG’s enigmatic Sound Designer, Black Taffy, offers multi-layered audioscapes that enhance the sometimes-frenetic energy of the play.
Georgiou and Locklear’s adaptation is admirable in its approach to proactivity and designing one's own fate, and Stronger That Arms stayed with me for days after. Reflecting on it, I caught glimpses of a stunning visual detail or thought of a particularly strong scene, of which there are too many to list. I began to understand the deeper messages within the play, and felt stronger for it.
Stronger Than Arms by Danielle Georgiou and Justin Locklear is a co-production of Undermain Theatre and Daneille Georgiou Dance Group. It is available for virtual streaming through October 17, 2021. Grab your pass at undermain.org.
References: Jacobus, Lee. The Bedford Introduction to Drama, 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.