Ajax | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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AJAX, Hypocrites, at the Viaduct Theater. Director Sean Graney is never one to bunt--he swings for the bleachers. Most recently he gave The Cherry Orchard a wallop, transforming Chekhov's usually sedate domestic comedy into a boisterous, semifarcical romp. And he still managed to find more humanity in the play than most directors would have with a "legitimate" approach.

Graney has attempted something similar with Sophocles' Ajax, the tale of a steadfast warrior driven to murderous delirium when he's denied his rightful inheritance: the mighty Achilles' armor. A perky Edith Hamilton plays cocktail-party hostess and commentator as Graney brings on the Jacobsons, a "typical American family" of aspiring, talentless actors who've agreed to tackle all the lead roles. They pull big faces and overgesticulate for the rest of the evening, accompanied by a chorus of bellowing Greek fishermen in identical black caps, mustaches, suspenders, and flip-flops who cheer them on to ruin.

It's an intriguing setup that might have forced contemporary meanings from this ancient script. But in an uncharacteristic move Graney overplays style at the expense of ideas: the cast devote almost all their energy to ridiculing the artifice of Greek tragedy and the puffed-up hokeyness of amateur theater. But both are easy targets, and hitting them repeatedly tells us little about Sophocles' myth--Graney might have parodied any classical tragedy--and even less about why it should matter to audiences today.

--Justin Hayford

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