The Arts Beat: Theatrical Remixes

By Matthew Reed Baker | Boston Magazine |

A dour ancient Greek playwright whose work consists of grim tragedies with characters who don’t talk to one another so much as deliver soliloquies — not exactly box-office gold. But watch: This production will be. On February 25, the American Repertory Theater will turn Aeschylus, that gloomy Greek, and his play Prometheus Bound — in which an immortal is chained to a rock, his liver eaten by an eagle — into a rock musical about political prisoners, with a score by Serj Tankian, leader of the million-selling punk-metal band System of a Down. The play is a follow-up to The Donkey Show, A.R.T.’s discofied take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Actually, repurposing classics is in vogue all across Boston. ArtsEmerson opened its season with Fraulein Maria, a reworking of The Sound of Music as a comedic ballet. The New Repertory Theatre will stage a rewrite of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (opening February 27) that moves the action from 1870s Norway to modern Connecticut. In May the Huntington Theatre will host the British troupe Propeller, which scored big in the U.K. with its gory Victorian Gothic version of Richard III.

Of course, these aren’t just intriguing artistic choices. They’re good marketing decisions. If other houses hope to replicate A.R.T.’s buzz, they are also, in the process, addressing theater’s generational shift. Established plays risk becoming period pieces, but drawing people to new stagings is a struggle. Promoting fresh takes on old ideas, then, is a safe hedge: When the patrons who revere tradition and those who seek out invention march through the same doors, there’s a better chance they’ll both rush the turnstiles for the rest of the season, even if there’s no rock star on the marquee.

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