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The Death of Socrates

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THE DEATH OF SOCRATES, TinFish Productions. The worst failure of this purposeless new work by Chicago playwright Jeffrey D. Klein (who also, regrettably, directs) is that it's about everything but its supposed subject. Yes, there are a few undramatic allusions to Socrates' trial. Incongruously portrayed as a biker chick by Dana Hardy, Socrates spouts snippets from Plato's dialogues. But the trial itself and Socrates' state-ordered suicide--the seeming heart of the story--are never seen. Instead we get baffling, irrelevant subplots about Socrates' students. Mark Stephen's ghost of Alcibiades is, predictably, a paramilitary thug, but we never learn that his treason was blamed on Socrates. Justin Speer seems to inhabit his own dramatic vacuum, playing drunken Aulius with melodramatic bluster. There's also a clumsy love story, presumably spun off from Plato's Symposium, that adds nothing to the script.

In fact, subtraction seems the focus of this 80-minute trivialization. Klein's aim may have been to universalize Socrates' execution, but he ends up simply omitting its cultural and political context and ignoring the central question: was Athens right to take the life of its greatest teacher for allegedly corrupting youth, sowing discord with his famous questions, and daring to doubt the existence of the gods? Such accusations sound creepily contemporary: was this the definitive triumph of censorship? Neglecting the eternal topicality of Socrates' death, Klein instead depicts a prank involving the theft of a sacred phallus. And his hodgepodge staging is a stylistic mess.

--Lawrence Bommer

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