Also see Susan's review of A Chorus Line
Modern audiences who may worry about whether they will feel comfortable attending a Greek tragedy should know they won't have any problems with a production as accessible as Ion, now at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in Washington. Director Ethan McSweeney has created a contemporary yet timeless world out of Euripides' play, in a conversational adaptation by David Lan.
The company describes Ion rather flippantly as "the Greek tragedy with a happy ending"; while the denouement doesn't include a pile of corpses on the stage, it does consider many serious issues. Most interestingly, Euripides suggests that gods have the same flaws as mortals, mistreating those around them and telling lies when expedient.
Greek mythology has many stories of gods who impregnate mortal women, but Ion may be the only one to depict the effect of such an incident on the woman involved. When she was very young, Creusa (Lisa Harrow), daughter of the king of Athens, was rapedno other word appliesby Apollo. In shame she hid her pregnancy, abandoning the baby boy shortly after his birth. For the two decades or so since then, she has kept her secret, silently grieving for the child she could never have raised, and worried why she has not borne children with her husband, the warrior Xuthus (Sam Tsoutsouvas).
The action takes place at Apollo's oracle at Delphi, where both Creusa and Xuthus want some answers from the god. So too does Ion, a young temple attendant (Keith Eric Chappelle) who has lived on the temple grounds since infancy and has no knowledge of his family background. On this one day, all three will find answers, but not necessarily the ones they expect.
McSweeney's light touch becomes apparent following the classical opening featuring Ion and the narrator god Hermes (Aubrey Deeker), when the chorus of Creusa's ladies-in-waiting enters in costumes by designer Rachel Myers that suggest any group of tourists on a day trip: sun visors, T-shirts (the one that says "It's all Greek to me" is on sale in the theater's gift shop), capri pants, and sandals. Creusa wears a powder blue suit that would not be out of place in the halls of Congress, and Xuthus has several guards who resemble Secret Service agents.
The interplay between the effortlessly aristocratic Harrow and artless, utterly sincere Chappelle is compelling, but the entire cast has its moments. Company stalwarts Floyd King and Tana Hicken demand attention in the small roles of an old servant who will do anything for Creusa and the priestess who can help unravel the mystery of Ion's birth.
Rachel Hauck's scenic design and Tyler Micoleau's lighting create the impression of a sun-washed courtyard and the ruins surrounding the oracle. The staging also includes a few attention-getting surprises.
Shakespeare Theatre Company