People love the things that terrify them the most, and the Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama Group’s magnificently monstrous production of Seneca’s “Thyestes” feeds off of that feeling of impending dread.
The Ancient Roman drama, directed by GSAS student Claire Catenaccio and in the original Latin, is being performed this weekend in Minor Latham Playhouse. The final performance is tonight at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $5 with a CUID.
The play opens in Hades, where the shade of Tantalus—performed gracefully by Fordham University classics professor Matthew McGowan—is sent to torment the House of Atreus, of which he is the founder.
Once again secure upon his throne in Argos, Atreus, played by Gavin McGown, CC ’13, is driven by his grandfather Tantalus to seek revenge. His target is his exiled brother, Thyestes, played by Ridge Montes, CC ’13, who had attempted to steal the throne and had committed adultery with Atreus’ wife.
Inviting him back to the city with promises of friendship and forgotten anger, Atreus has the children of Thyestes murdered, cooked, and then, unbeknownst to Thyestes, eaten by their own father.
While the plot might be remembered for its gruesome nature, nor will the acting of these two main characters soon be forgotten, because of their perfect execution.
McGown, always wearing the devious sneer of a villain, revels in the role, and deliveres his lines, in Latin, with incredible poise.
Falling straight into the trap, Montes is reduced to a quivering mass of flesh, shaking, dry heaving, and dramatically predicting vengeance, while pitifully attempting to figure out how he will bury the sons he ingested.
Accompanying them is the eerily voiced chorus, a group of six dancers, and several musicians. Neither these people, nor the costumes or set, are supposed to provide any sort of comfort throughout the play.
The music, put together by classics student Kate Brassel, GSAS, is often dissonant. Featuring strands from familiar tunes, it underscores how the play revels in its own gratuity as horrors unfold onstage.
The spectacular costumes, designed by Ilana Breitman, BC/JTS ’13, evoke the atmosphere of a turn-of-the-century circus. Breitman dresses Atreus as the ringmaster who manipulates all of the other characters at will.
The pound of the makeup on each actor’s face, done primarily by Kerry Joyce, CC ’15, only emphasizes the circus, while also recalling the ancient masks of comedy and tragedy.
As the final notes fade and the lights go out—and as the torments on stage finally came to a close, with Atreus triumphant and Thyestes destroyed—there is nothing left to do but offer wholehearted applause to what is quite probably the best production this reviewer has ever seen on campus.
Flawless in both its vision and execution, “Thyestes,” for all of its gruesome indulgence, has set a new bar for the Columbia theater world.