It's the same old story. A powerful man, a younger woman, a wife who has stayed by him through previous infidelities and who now wants to take action. What should she do? Sophocles' play, "Women of Trachis," is eerily modern.
Dawn McCaughterty, director of the University of Utah production, notes this in the program. McCaughterty sees several timeless themes, including "the incompatibilty of the sexes, the fall of a great figure gripped in the `disease' of love, the perils posed by the bestial forces lurking just below the veneer of civilized behavior . . ."The great hero Herakles is, after many years and many battles, returning home to Trachis. His wife, Deianeira, is thrilled. Then she learns he's bringing his new girlfriend with him. The captured princess, Iole, is not as excited about Herakles as he is about her.
Deianeira feels compassion for Iole and even for Herakles. Still, she is heartbroken and determined to win her husband back. So she coats a red cloak with a love potion. He wraps himself in it. Then he starts to die. Oh no. Deianeira has bought the love potion from an enemy. Turns out it is poison.
This is the university's 28th annual Classical Greek Theatre Festival. This translation and this production is easy to understand and follow. The chorus wears clown noses when they are clowning around. There are no funny props when they are being poetic.
The set is simple, practically nonexistent. The trees and the mountains and the sun are a perfect backdrop. The costumes and masks and the choreography are lovely.
Kelly Millwood is Deianeira,strong and commanding. Robert Scott Smith is Herakles; he has only one scene but it's a big one. Joel Weaver is the son. Alfred Lawrence Smith is Lichas.
Part of the fascination, for modern audiences, comes in watching Herakles die. His is one dramatic death. He writhes. He screams. He agonizes. He blames his wife for his pain - and of course, in a literal sense, she did cause it.
As he writhes his last, Herakles asks his son to marry the young Iole. Even on his deathbed he can't stand to think of her with another man. His son doesn't want to marry Iole. It would cause him pain to marry the woman who destroyed his parent's marriage, he says. It would be wrong, immoral. Never mind, says Herakles. "It isn't wrong, not if it gives me joy."
Lest we thought we were the ones who invented "if it feels good, do it." Sophocles wrote these words in 430 B.C. "It isn't wrong, not if it gives me joy."