by Robert Subiaga
“Dying’s easy, comedy is hard,“ right?
Don’t get me wrong. Great comedy is hard. Gets short shrift among big awards. But why are high school plays usually comedies? Why are most people’s formative attempts at YouTube videos comedy? Why is the first thing out of your mouth at a casual gathering a joke?
Because if you fuck-up, people laugh. A laugh won’t kill a comedy.
So, generally most theater companies are afraid of doing drama. They won’t even try it unless it’s a big production with a lot of money, or at least a script by an already renowned writer. I like the Minnesota Fringe for many reasons, but one of the big ones is that companies aren’t afraid to do drama.
This year’s particular production of Alexander at Delphi isn’t without its issues. So how can I give it a perfect score?
Because, boys and girls, the script is that good.
And it’s a script by the director.
A tall claim. After all, the history the theatre stretches back to ancient Greek drama, coming up from there through Shakespeare, and so on. People who we not only see in performance but read in literature classes, poring over the fine points of themes and philosophy, arguing about hefty matters like fate and free will. But Minrod Mier’s writing shows he understands these things, even enough to hold his own among the giants.
The structure of the play mimics classical Greek drama, complete with song and actors working in chorus. The Fates open the play, original fixtures in Greece yet at the same time reminiscent of Macbeth. This will be an exploration of ambition and hubris, only in this case it involves Alexander the Great. Alexander, before he conquered Persia, was known to have visited the Oracle at Delphi seeking a prophecy. No one knows just what the Oracle told him, but Mier here gives us his take on it--a take that also like Macbeth has a twist.
The only hint I’ll drop is that when we‘re taught about Macbeth it doesn‘t necessarily seem to fit the formula of tragedy: the protagonist sees the light and is redeemed, only too late. How is Macbeth redeemed? “Lay on, MacDuff.” In the last few moments, Macbeth may have become a monster, but now goes his own way, regardless of what is fated, not caring whether the card deck is stacked for or against him. An often unsung feature of heroism, compared to going through life like a video-game player with all the cheat codes.
The unfortunate flaws in Mier’s production are that he understands these parallels and nails them in the script, but doesn’t trust the audience will get it. He splits the difference between his lead being like the real Alexander and too-obviously like Macbeth in look and mannerisms. The historical Alexander was a mix of ferocity and drive with boyish naivete, a rash talent like a star athlete, not a ruthless but wickedly careful businessman. All the important parallels hold up in the script alone, even if we were given a historical Alexander in look and feel, but Mier’s Greeks are attired like Romans, and in the lead Chris Dexter gives it his best try, but he’s just too respectably lantern-jawed to be Alexander.
This no doubt will have many reviewers ready to play senator to Mier’s Caesar and slip out their knives. Once people have been forced to read things like Shakespeare, hating it, and then see how vibrant it becomes in performance, something flips; theatre folk tend toward the position the performance is the real key, as if a great producer or actor could make something out of your grocery list.
Thinking it doesn’t all start--and even sometimes end--with the writing isn’t the key? Now that’s comedy!
Check out Alexander at Delphi at the U of M Rarig Center Proscenium on Wednesday 8/11 8:30 p.m. and Friday 8/13 7:00 p.m. For more info and to purchase tickets click HERE.