Theban Trilogy Comes to Factory Theatre

Written by Kyle Smith; Media by Austin Schumacher

In their latest production, Three from Thebes, the Factory Theater Players have undertaken an extremely ambitious project. Three from Thebes is an adaptation of three of the oldest plays in the history of theater, the Greek tragedies of Sophocles: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. This project is ambitious for a number of reasons:

Image courtesy Ulmer Photography
Image courtesy Ulmer Photography

First, this production takes three separate plays which are each approximately an hour and a half in length and condenses them into one, three-act play with a run time of about two to two and a half hours, give or take.

Second, this production attempts to resurrect some of the Greek style of theater, primarily through the use of masks and a “chorus.” Greek actors wore masks to cover their faces as part of their costumes as a way to take on the role of their characters. The Factory Theater Players have adapted this tradition for Three from Thebes and use masks to symbolize their characters, meaning that they are robbed of communication with the audience through facial expressions. The “chorus” is usually a group of minor characters who speak in unison as a way to narrate and convey plot movement, much like a chorus in a musical but with speaking instead of singing parts. Both of these aspects of the show speak to the ambition of the project because they demonstrate how foreign certain elements of this production will be to the audience. Because the audience is probably unfamiliar with forms of theater that include elements like masks and choruses, the actors will need extra effort to connect with the audience.

Image courtesy Ulmer Photography
Image courtesy Ulmer Photography

Third, in the style of Greek theater, this production is primarily dialogue driven. Minimal props and actions are used throughout the show. Combined with the masks’ robbery of facial expressions as form of communication, this style of theater places a greater emphasis on the actors’ ability to present their dialogue in an engaging way.

All of that being said, the Players clearly had their work cut out for them in this production. This show has high potential for greatness. The stories are excellent, and there are reasons besides the fact that they were written by some ancient Greek dude for why these plays have stuck around for thousands of years. To reach the potential greatness of these shows, however, the Players needed to sell every aspect, especially dialogue, of this production since the structure of the show distances the audience through unfamiliarity of form.

Sadly, when I went to see the production, which, granted was a preview of the show and not after it had opened, the majority of the Players did not sell the show to the audience, and because of this, the audience was alienated from the story for a large portion of two and a half hours. This is the type of show that clearly separates the actors who invest themselves in their characters and those who do not. Whether it was through lack of emotion investment, lack of acting skill, or simply lack of memorization, it was apparent that an overwhelming majority of the cast was not invested in the production.

Most of actors in minor roles delivered all of their dialogue in a supremely wooden fashion, and the chorus was atrocious. Throughout the chorus’ parts, it was clear that several of the chorus members knew their lines and choreography, but in a chorus setting where the majority of lines are spoken in unison, ALL of the members need to perform this flawlessly in concerted group effort, or else the chorus will be a frustrating joke. Such group parts are only as strong as the group’s weakest link, and the weak links were especially obvious in the chorus of this production.

Image courtesy The Factory Theatre
Image courtesy The Factory Theatre

On a brighter note, the few actors who were invested in the show were excellent. There were three or four actors in lead roles who took head-on all of the elements of the show that could be barriers that alienate the audience, poured themselves into their characters, and their performances blew me away. Those few actors who worked to sell the show and all of its challenges to the audience did extremely well and I commend them on their work.

Overall, I was fairly disappointed in the production. This project was quite ambitious, and it had the potential for the Factory Theater Players to provide an excellent performance. However, this excellence could only be achieved by a concerted investment from all of the players, and sadly, it was clear that only a few of the actors invested themselves in the production. The result was a few amazing performances by a handful actors accompanied by the majority of cast alienating the audience with their performance. I have come to expect much better from the Factory Theater Players in my time here at Greenville, and hopefully the next production will include investment from the entire cast.


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