'Wound' Finds Resonance in Homer's Great Trojan Epic

Photo: Shotgun Players' 'The Salt Plays, Part 1: In the Wound' is playing at John Hinkel Park.
Kellen Freeman/Photo
Shotgun Players' 'The Salt Plays, Part 1: In the Wound' is playing at John Hinkel Park.

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Shotgun Players' newest production, part one of "The Salt Plays," entitled "In the Wound," is a theatrical accomplishment: The company has aptly chosen John Hinkel Park's outdoor amphitheater to perform the Greek tragedy, filling the venue with an extensive, energetic and talented ensemble cast. In addition to the numerous challenges that come with an open-air performance, the piece sets up other obstacles for itself by adopting a nearly exhausted subject (warfare's spiritual, psychological and emotional repercussions) and adapting the most famous war tale ever told ("The Iliad").

Writer/director Jon Tracy's two-part series scrutinizes the chaos of combat through this sensitive and relevant reenactment of the infamous "epic" battle. Weaving allusions from World War II and our own nearly decade-long Iraq War, Tracy balances his political commentary with an appropriately humorous tone and skillfully preserves the integrity of "The Iliad."

Hera, Athena and Aphrodite - the three competitive goddesses allegedly to blame for the legendary war - first appear as nurses in Red Cross uniforms. The female trio heralds the start of the production by mounting individual towers, ferociously drumming as Agamemnon sacrifices his innocent daughter to win the gods' favor. Providing a decidedly female narrative frame, the nurses/goddesses serve as a makeshift Chorus: Their witty banter and poignant commentary knit the production together by guiding the audience and interacting with the inconsolable soldiers throughout the prolonged war. As the story nears its predictable end, the goddesses' collective guilt for the casualty toll acquires a universal resonance; their inability to aid the traumatized warriors becomes a lamentation for humanity's collective futility amidst the inevitability of war.

"Cruel" Odysseus of Ithaca emerges as a veritable "modern" man, expressing existential doubt and marveling at the senseless destruction he has orchestrated. The esteemed warrior of Homer's epic is absent from Tracy's rendering, instead casting the classic "hero" as a "social mathematician" and bureaucratic puppeteer. Despite his ethical crisis, he is responsible for the first innocent sacrifice and all the deaths that follow, suggesting that the vast discrepancy between a man's conscience and his commission has, perhaps, always existed. Describing his vague role, Odysseus tenuously states, "I get things done. I change the rules, or experiment with them it's hard to explain." Whatever he does, each experiment is sure to yield the same results, though the number of casualties on each side may vary slightly.

"In the Wound" is a visual pastiche of warfare history, exquisitely expressed through the costuming. Simultaneously situating the action in the not-too-distant past when technology revolutionized brutality and channeling Hellenistic attire, "In the Wound" strategically circumvents direct visual references to present-day conflicts.

At times, the characters are reduced to mouth-pieces for an anti-war agenda; overall, "In the Wound" brings to light the transformations "honorable" battle has undergone since the beginning of Western civilization and creates an intimately complex, provocative portrait of the characters that have traditionally been dismissed as faceless pawns of gods, poets and men behind the destruction that they themselves will never witness.

Do some social mathematics with Jennafer at [email protected]

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