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Hypocrites’ ‘All Our Tragic’ a production of epic proportions

 
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Zeke Sulkes (left)ErBarlow The Hypocrites’ world premiere ALL OUR TRAGIC adapted directed by Sean Graney. |  Phoby Evan Hanover.

Zeke Sulkes (left)and Erin Barlow in The Hypocrites’ world premiere of ALL OUR TRAGIC adapted and directed by Sean Graney. | Photo by Evan Hanover.

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‘All Our Tragic,’

In previews; opens Aug. 10 and runs through Oct. 5; The Hypocrites at The Den Theatre, 1339 N. Milwaukee. $30 (Fri. and Mon. for each of four parts); $75 (Sat. and Sun. full-day marathons); (773) 525-5991; www.the-hypocrites.com

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Updated: August 7, 2014 5:19PM



The sheer scope and ambition of “All Our Tragic,” The Hypocrites’ newest project, should inspire Zeus himself to come down off Mount Olympus and head to a Chicago theater. At the very least, Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine, ritual madness and religious ecstasy — whose festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre — should make the visit.

And just what is this marathon madness that has been devised by adapter-director Sean Graney? It is nothing less than the staging of a 12-hour theatrical epic that combines all 32 surviving Greek tragedies (the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) into a single epic narrative that spans about 75 years and will be performed by a cast of 23 actors playfully dubbed “the thespian Olympic athletes.”

The production can be seen in a single full-immersion experience on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.(with multiple intermissions, meal breaks with food provided, and a cash bar), or in four shorter installments over consecutive Friday or Monday nights. The event, in rehearsal since June, opens Aug. 10, will run for nearly two months — a monumental undertaking that also marks The Hypocrites’ first production in its new home — an expansive, easily adaptable street level storefront at 1339 N. Milwaukee that is part of The Den Theatre complex.

So, what possessed Graney — who founded The Hypocrites in 1997, has directed more than 30 productions for the troupe, and recently returned from a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University — to attempt such a thing?

“Aside from the fact that I’m crazy?,” quipped Graney. “It all began three years ago after we did ‘The Seven Sicknesses,’ my adaptation of the seven Sophocles plays. People thought I was nuts to try that, but for the most part they really enjoyed it and encouraged me to do more. So I began looking at the rest of the surviving Greek tragedies and realized they conjoined nicely, and complemented each other, and that it might be fun to create this contemporary festival of Dionysus.”

Graney’s original script ran more than 800 pages, but paper soon had little to do with the process. Before rehearsals began, the entire work was put on Kindle, and each actor was given a device. As work got underway, and changes were made, a script technician appended them to the four separate Word documents comprising these “electronic scripts.”

If the technology is of the moment, the themes of the plays are universal and evergreen.

“I think what obsessed the Greeks was how people in society interact with each other,” said Graney. “How do they help themselves and each other? How do they carry on in a society when forces are at odds with each other, whether those forces are within the family or the state? And yes, along the way there are a lot of wars, but even in war they ask: How do you treat the enemy? How do you treat the citizens of foreign lands you’ve conquered? These are very important social and ethical questions, and not a lot of people engage in asking them these days. Or they take a very one-sided approach, and fail to have a real conversation.”

As he has gotten to know the plays and playwrights, Graney has come to appreciate them in different ways.

“Aeschylus, the earliest of the writers, used two characters and a chorus, so his work is a two-sided debate,” Graney explained. “Sophocles added a third character, so there could be more dimensionality and nuance of character. Euripides added irony and distance, and his plays have more commentary on things.”

The overall marathon unspools in chronological narrative order. The three playwrights often dealt with the same story line, so some of the dramas have been “folded into” each other.

“I began work on ‘All Our Tragic’ by mapping out all 32 plays, and I ended up dealing with 28 narrative events that I divided into four sections,” Graney said. “The first, ‘Physics,’ deals with a time when people were nomadic and battled monsters, so it is more magical. The second, ‘Politics,’ is rooted in the foundation of cities and the problems of people ruling other people. It tells the story of Thebes, and involves Oedipus, so it’s probably the most familiar part of the project. The third section, ‘Politics,’ focuses largely on the Trojan War, although I’ve shoehorned Aeschylus’ ‘The Persians’ in there because it dealt with a contemporary event and didn’t really have another place. The fourth, ‘Poetics,’ covers Agamemnon’s return from war, and the spiraling out of control that follows.”

Of the cast’s 23 actors, 14 play multiple character roles. A chorus of three women Graney has dubbed “Odd Jobs” act as guides and help move the action along. And there also are “six great young gentlemen very eager to do all the fighting scenes.” Many of these actors (and, ironically, “hypocrites” means “actors” in Greek), have worked with Graney for years.

And who will come to see “All Our Tragic”?

“AWESOME people,” said Graney. “I know it’s not for everyone, but I want as many people as possible to share this experience. And while I’d love everyone to be there for the full 12-hour version, and break bread with strangers, kick off their shoes, and watch the actors pour their hearts out, I know not everyone can do that.”

NOTE: To learn how three actors are coping with the marathon, visit voices.suntimes.com.



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