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The Persians

Atossa, Queen

Atossa, Queen

of Persia … Charlotte Gonzalez

Chorus … Joseph Haj, Ben

Halley Jr., Martinus Miroto

Xerxes … John Ortiz

Ghost of Darius … Howie Seago

Robert Auletta’s “modern version” of Aeschylus’ 2,500-year-old paean to his Persian enemies, though challenging in its contemporary political parallels, gets a tepid staging from director Peter Sellars.

As the play begins, Persia lies in ruins, its army led by the fanatical Xerxes defeated and dying on the battlefield, as Queen Atossa, Xerxes’ mother, teeters on the brink of insanity, mourning the destruction of both her country and her family. The classic Greek tragedy has already occurred, and Aeschylus is chronicling the aftermath.

The strength of Aeschylus’ drama is its perspective. Rather than extol the heroism of the victors, as the American media did throughout the Gulf War, and as presumably most of the Greek media did in the fifth century, B.C., Aeschylus laments the plight of the vanquished.

The viewpoint is profoundly anti-war. Aeschylus is not making a political point — he simply observes that whoever is right or wrong, the end result of war is great suffering.

The most dramatic sections are those that simply chronicle the suffering on the battlefields, the bomb shelters and even the palaces of modern Persia.

Unfortunately, the fatal flaw is the production by director Sellars, who tries to both emulate and update Greek production techniques, using an odd mixture of modern sound technology and traditional music and dance. The minimal set and static performance styles suggest a staged reading of the text rather than a theatrical performance.

Casting, intended to be eclectic, results in a jumbled, uneven mix of acting styles and lackluster performances, with the exception of a strong appearance by John Ortiz at the end of the play.

Many of Sellars’ staging techniques feel overused and even dated. Hand-held lights casting shadows on the wall, head mikes, onstage musicians and deaf actors signing speeches are now familiar, empty stage references. While Sellars’ play-in-a-garage aesthetic has worked well in many instances, it barely resonates with this epic material.

The Persians

(Mark Taper Forum; 737 seats; $ 35 top)

  • Production: Mark Taper Forum presents a drama by Aeschylus, modern version by Robert Auletta. Directed by Peter Sellars; costumes, Dunya Ramicova.
  • Crew: Lighting, James F. Ingalls; sound, Bruce Odland, Sam Auinger; music, Hamza El Din, Ben Halley Jr. Opened and reviewed, Sept. 30, 1993; runs through Oct. 24.
  • Cast:
  • Music By: