The Most Difficult Plays – n°18
Yes. I know.
I know. I promise, I understand.
I don’t even have to write the title of the Play.
Hey ! I said : The Most Difficult Plays.
Not the “not so easy to play” plays. Not the “hard to play” plays. Not the WHAT ??? plays. No. I wrote : “The most difficult plays”. So Seneca.
I write Seneca, and I lost everybody – even my cat. He goes sleeping on my cushion. This cat is of no use to me in life – apart from making sure my pillow is comfortable and the milk is of good quality.
I’m losing everyone, because Seneca is dragging around a whole bunch of downright disastrous preconceptions with his name on it.
He’s old– that I can’t deny. He’s even an antique guy.
He wrote theatre? But no… oh that must be the plague.
The most “ancient” among us will add 3 layers of fear by associating Nero’s name … so obviously it’s not going too well – quoting him as a Stoic – which doesn’t look good, even if, for most of us, we don’t know what it means – and remembering that he committed suicide on Nero’s orders, involved in an obscure conspiracy.
And those who learn Latin invariably type the translation in theme and version of his “Letters to Lucilius”, with a boredom in general that is quite … severe.
Did you see that? I still haven’t given the title of the play.
Is that all right? You guys ready? Are you expecting a big stupidity?
The play is : Thyestes.
Sorry – a good hammer to the head – no it wasn’t a comedy.
It wasn’t a Seneca prank, or or or….
No, that’s what the name Seneca announced, there was no joke.
It is a beautiful Stoic Tragedy, that’s Thyestes.
I think my cat’s turned into a pillow. And yet I’ve never taken him to see a play by Seneca.
Thyestes, it’s a play from the Atreides.
The ancients didn’t break their knees too much for the themes of their plays: there were the characters of the Atreides, the characters of the Labdacid family, and various deviations from their myths. And it was very good.
So Thyestes refers us to: the Iliad and the Trojan War. Thyestes is King of Mycenae. His twin brother is called Atreus. He’s king of Argos. So far, so good.
We’ve even been able to say to each other, but but but but but but… Atreus/Atreides ? there’s a connection! Yes ma’am, there is.
Of course, two kings is too much.
The bad guy at first is Thyestes. He literally scams his brother – who doesn’t realize it – and manages to chase him off the throne of Argos.
Zeus, who had nothing to do – and who is Zeus anyway – plays the same game with Thyestes: he gives him a dirty trick of “you’ll be king as long as the sun sets in the west” – Thyestes accepts, obviously.
Zeus goes to see Apollo. The sun sets in the east. Thyestes finds himself like an idiot, he loses everything and his brother replaces him on the thrones.
You’d think Atreus would be happy.
His brother is exiled. He hides in the caves like a savage with his two sons.
Revenge isn’t so bad.
And that’s where Seneca’s play begins.
Because, actually, Atreus, he can’t really forgive.
And he too has two sons: Agammenon and Menelaus.
Anyway… remember that Atreus and Thyestes are twins?
So how can I tell you that?
Let’s say that a twin who shows up in his sister-in-law’s bed… it passes for the sister-in-law, who may not even notice anything.
So you understood. – Thus Thyestes found his brother’s wife very, very charming.
And when his brother Atreus found out some years later – he got a little angry anyway.
And he decided to take revenge the old-fashioned Greek way –
It’s a vengeance of cynicism, coldness, cruelty… with no limits.
All this to lead us to an end – where, frankly – it was rare, a whole theatre sat there in awe.
Yes, because I haven’t told you yet.
But Thyestes, I saw it on stage.
And like all the venues where this show was created, it wasn’t a success, it was hysteria.
This play is so hard: by its author, by its theme, by its date – that it took at least a genius of direction to dare to stage it.
There’s one right now, in France. His name is Thomas Jolly.
He’s an extraordinary guy – who also loves the idea of Altair – I’m saying this totally at random – but he’s one of my first supporters in the project.
He opened the great Avignon Festival with his Thyeste.
And people took up seats for the next performance.
Can you imagine that? Taking back seats? That never happens.
Obviously, for a French audience – the play is in French…
But the staging… the music… the set – a hallucinating set that works… wonderfully, all of this can already be accessible.
And Thomas, he’s not a guy to shy away from difficulties. If the obstacle for him is language, then it is no longer an obstacle.
Yes, I like him a lot, too.
Because he has a monstrous nerve.
An even more monstrous talent.
Because he’s not afraid of anything and he’ll get us Plays that scare everyone!
My cat and the cushion just asked my neighbor for political asylum.
Correction: my sons, the cat and the cushions have all requested political asylum.
The ungrateful ones! phew!
That was… title number three in my summer series: The Most Difficult Plays.
Featured Image : The old man called Seneca – Paris – Musée du Louvre