‘The Heal’ Updates Sophocles’ Inspiration at Getty Villa 

With an Evening of Music, Movement and Grand Passion

The chorus at the Getty are (left to right): Emma Lou Hebert, Jaquita Ta’le and Eunice Bae with Philoctetes (Eric Hissom).                                        Photo: Craig Schwartz

By LIBBY MOTIKA

Circling the News Contributor

The immediate relevance of ancient Greek plays to our lives, century after century, lives on despite the archaic form and conventions of 5th century B.C. drama. The vagaries of the human condition, unbounded pride, stinging pain, jealousy, love and loss repeat and repeat throughout history.

Over the 90 years that Sophocles lived through the 5th century B.C., he crystalized these human frailties in his last and most personal and political play, “Philoctetes.”

One of the three great Greek playwrights, including Euripides and Aeschylus, Sophocles is most famously known for his Theban trilogy: “Oedipus Rex,” “Oedipus at Colonus” and “Antigone.”

But it is “Philoctetes,” written in 409 B.C., three years before Sophocles died, where the weighty issues he experienced throughout his life most inform the plot: The Persian invasion of Greece, the Peloponnesian War, the Great Plague, and the replacement of democracy with oligarchy.

The litany of these existential challenges must have taken an emotional toll on Sophocles, who chose the weariness of the endless Trojan War to expose the moral intrepidness and fecklessness of the main characters.

In “Philoctetes,” the Trojan War is in its 10th year. Not to bog down the reader with the complex back story, the essence involves a prophecy that reveals the only way to end the war. Only the bow of Herakles, wielded by Philoctetes, will resolve the hostilities.

Having been abandoned on a desolate island by king Odysseus, Philoctetes, suffering from a wound to his heel, is in possession of said bow.

A scheme to retrieve the bow sets the play in action. Odysseus engages Neoptolemus, the son of the famed warrior Achilles, to help him inveigle Philoctetes to give up the bow.

This is Sophocles’ play, but not “The Heal,” reimagined by director/adaptor Aaron Posner of the Round House Theatre, and on stage at the Getty Villa through September 28.

If not too obvious, “The Heal” indeed addresses physical wounds, but also the deep emotional wounds that we harbor as part of being human.

“The Heal” is a musical, carried by the genius of composer/singer Cliff Eberhardt, whose songs remind us that our quotidian conflicts mask our wounds.

Posner tilts the pillars of Greek bravery away from the masculine measure of strength and risk to the feminine attributes of compassion, truthfulness and compromise. In pursuing this tack, Posner presents Niaptoloma, the daughter of Achilles, instead of Neoptolemus. The well-worn clichés we intone to convince ourselves that a lie or the slaughter of war or displacement of refugees is all for “the greater good or political necessity, the costs of the real world” are dismantled by Niaptoloma, who believes “we settle this with talk and listening and understanding.”

In addition, the traditional Greek chorus, whose monotones opine on the foibles of human kind, is replaced in ‘The Heal” by three sexy and sassy young women, who often help us out with their straight-up assessment of the action on stage, including a quicksilver review of the back story.

While the action on stage drifts only slightly from Sophocles’ play, “The Heal” differs greatly in tone. Just as Sophocles inserted his own design to discuss ideas and issues relevant to his time, Posner has adapted modern vernacular while mixing classical concerns and current concerns. As the playwright has said, “Audiences will enjoy an evening full of music and movement and grand passion.”

This play is a 90-minute commentary on our human frailties and the pain we suffer, wrapped inside quick-moving action and lots of laughs.

I should mention that the play employs profanity with abandon.

The play runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, through September 28, at 8 p.m. at the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater. For tickets ($40-$48), contact getty.edu.

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1 Response to ‘The Heal’ Updates Sophocles’ Inspiration at Getty Villa 

  1. Neven Karlovac says:

    Thanks, Libby. Well said. For me, the performance was captivating and the most gripping presentation of a classical tragedy that I have seen so far at the Getty Villa. I hope they’ll bring Mr. Posner back.

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