Aeschylus’s The Persians is the only surviving Greek tragedy based on a contemporary event—the operative word being tragedy. But in this unfaithfully frolicsome adaptation, the dynamic Waterwell ensemble refuses to be downbeat. Lampooning rather than lamenting Persia’s doomed, arrogant war against the Greeks turns out to be only slightly less fulfilling and definitely more fun.
The ensemble, aided by an onstage band, incorporates chunks of Aeschylus’s text and modernizes less accessible sections with vaudevillian spunk (and funk, thanks to versatile composer Lauren Cregor). Waterwell resists the temptation to cram in too much political topicality—after all, America’s schlock-and-awe is already so eerily similar to Persia’s that one wonders if Bush got the idea to invade Iraq after playing Mad Libs with Aeschylus’s script.
Some of the adapted sections feel more talent-showy than functional, as with the distracting boxing match accompanying the Messenger’s sportscast of the great battle. But most are resourceful and entertaining. For example, the production, under the direction of Tom Ridgely, exploits Iranian American Arian Moayed’s bilingualism in a hilarious Farsi song (with English subtitles), and discovers disco fever when the pimped-out King Darius (the exuberant Rodney Gardiner) returns from Hades to witness his son’s reckless destruction of a glorious empire. Even if such touches rob Aeschylus’s anti-war pleas of their solemnity, the cast’s relentless energy revitalizes this ancient allegory.