Theatre Review: “Argonautika”

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The Hannon Theatre Company is given the annual task of staging the fall play, and just as with last year’s performance of “Fahrenheit 451,” Hannon Theatre did not fail to put on a performance that captured the attention of the Loyola community. “Argonautika” is a tale that dates back to the 3rd century BCE and chronicles the story of Jason and the Argonauts’ quest in pursuit of the Golden Fleece in order to usurp the throne from Jason’s evil uncle, Pelias.

Fine arts teacher Walter Wolfe, now in his 24th year of directing at Hannon Theatre and having finished his 47th production, said, “The thing I loved most about it is that everybody on stage was being used almost all the time, and so that lends itself to a very busy and therefore happy cast.”

However, he also stressed some of the difficulties involved with the execution: “It was a very difficult play to stage because a lot of it was contingent on props and costumes and sets, pieces we didn’t have in rehearsal. But it all came together.”

The role of Jason was played by senior Graeme Collins, who had previously participated in last year’s spring musical, “Once Upon a Mattress,” as a knight. He cited this experience as very formative in his HTC career and as one of the reasons he was able to be cast as the lead in “Argonautika.” Collins said, “Wolfe sort of has an unspoken rule where first-timers don’t really get a lead. So the fact that I was just ensemble meant that I got to know the cast, I got to be comfortable in the Hannon environment, and I got to be comfortable on stage in general, so that when it became time for me to be a lead and to be a leader of the group, I was already comfortable with the people I was with.”

Collins confessed that, at first, not all cast members were thrilled at the selection of “Argonautika.” He said, “As we started getting more and more into the story and more into the play, I think we all started taking ownership of the play, so by the end of it we all really enjoyed the selection.”

In terms of his reasons for participating in the first place, Collins cited his co-stars as his main reason. He said, “It’s really the people in theater who really drew me in. If those people weren’t there, I wouldn’t be doing it. They are what make it a fun environment to be in.”

The play proved very popular among the audience and both Collins and Wolfe were very proud of how the production went.

Wolfe said, “The fact that the audiences really enjoyed it was not surprising,” Wolfe said. “We all worked really well together, and it was a fun cast. We had some challenges, but they rose to those challenges. It was a very difficult play, and that they pulled it off and made it look easy is probably what I’m most proud about.”

Collins said, “The character work went well for me: We always do a good job with that, and Wolfe does a really good job of making sure that the relationship between the characters, the way they interact, and the interactions between them, [that]that’s always really good.”

Both also agreed that the production was not perfect. Wolfe refused to single out any one particular element and instead said, “There is always something I want to change, but it was the best that [the cast]could do because they put their best in it, and I’m very proud of them for that.”

Collins said, “There are always technical issues. For the first three shows we had some mic issues, but that comes with the fall plays because there is always a lot of movement. By the second weekend, everything was running smoothly.” In spite of these difficulties, he made clear that “In rehearsals and between the actual actors, I think we did about the best job we could do.  I don’t think that there are too many areas where it needed that much improvement.”

The play, as mentioned by Collins and Wolfe, went very smoothly. The plot was recognizable as one of the more well-known Greek epics.

The play begins with nearly the entire cast on stage with all in a very cheery mood; however, the plays ends with stories of how the characters’ lives went poorly and, in classic Greek tragedy fashion, their deaths.

One of the best elements in the play was how the actors captured the tension in Mount Olympus. Athena constantly tries to help Hercules and Jason because at the beginning of the play Jason helps Athena, dressed as an old woman, cross a raging river, but Hera is not interested because Hercules is the lovechild between her husband, Zeus, and another goddess. Athena is frequently frustrated at Hera’s sentiment, and this tension is central to the development of these two characters. A plethora of action was also featured throughout the performance and ranged anywhere from fighting sea monsters and dragons to fending off an army of skeletons.

The play, as incredibly enjoyable as it was, did have several areas that could have been portrayed more clearly. In particular, the play touches upon but does not explain very well why King Pelias is the illegitimate ruler and why Jason’s father has any more right to rule than his brother. However, such details were minor and did not detract from the overall success of the performance.

While the story of “Argonautika,” by Mary Zimmerman, is funny, action-packed, riveting, adventurous, romantic and energetic, it does carry an important message that still holds great importance in the modern world. This message was summed up perfectly by Wolfe in the playbill: “Jason’s adventures remind us that we must always be cognizant of the effects our actions have on other people and cultures. We need reminding that selfishness, narcissism and ignorance set a course for disaster.”

With regards to the upcoming spring musical, Collins seemed excited and confident. Collins said,  “We always do a much better job with the spring musical, possibly because it’s a larger cast. It’s more energetic and it’s a calmer time of the year. I think our expectations are pretty high.”

Wolfe, on the other hand, was more focused on the logistical aspects and the fact that the cast has yet to be selected and that there still exists much work to be done.

Wolfe also expressed discontent at the fact that theatre plays a secondary role to athletics at Loyola. “With 47 productions under my belt, it does get disheartening that we don’t sell out every show.  If we were a sports team we’d have 47 championship seasons, and everybody would be coming to see how we do it again. And people think of high school theatre as less than or something that your parents go to.”

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