Rehearsal Report, Days 2-4

Friday, May 6, 2011 Leave a Comment

(Learn more about Ajax in Iraq )

by August Schulenburg

The first days of a rehearsal are like the first years of life: a great deal is learned incredibly quickly, but you spend a lot of time bumping into things and falling down. Well, that was my fate these last three rehearsals - plenty of learning, plenty of stubbed toes. However, I’m feeling much closer to having a fundamental grasp of the play’s DNA.

One big question we’ve been batting around:

How much power does Athena have over the action of the play? At first, when I’d imagined AJ’s unit of soldiers as the DNA of the play, I saw the soldier Connie as the human opposite of Athena. Their need to understand the choices that AJ and Ajax made would drive the play, and the AJ’s unit would be at the core of each actor’s shifting characters.

But when we moved away from that DNA being AJ’s unit, and embraced the play’s wider reach of the totality of war, it shifted that Athena/Connie duality to Athena being the central driving force. More than a presiding deity, she directs our attention through the shifting scenes, but to what end? Her curiosity about the kind of mortal behavior she doesn’t have access to? Is that why she needs us, the audience? Is she changed by the journey?

From our work the past few days, and from several great discussions with the playwright Ellen, I’ve moved away from thinking that Athena is driven by strong curiosity about the characters’ behavior, or changed in any fundamental way by the action. Rather, the play is less an inquiry for her than a warning for us, the audience. She presents us with the action of the play, in all of its many voices, as a warning that we have replaced her central role in understanding war. Instead, we now operate as if war was manageable, knowable, reasonable and controllable.

This gives Athena a powerful action based in her primary scene partner: the audience. However, as soon as you unlock this question, a hundred more spill out. In particular, we’re curious how much control she has over the scenes, and how often – if ever – she is surprised by their outcome. Is she aware of how often the scenes she presents undermine the clarity of her action with all of the contradiction and complexity inherent in any human behavior, but especially war?

There is still a long way to go, but these last three days have been exhausting and exhilarating, and our first stumble through on Sunday night looms ahead.