A contemporary adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy, "Ajax," set on the steps of the Pentagon and starring deaf actor Howie Seago in the title role, will be the next production of the American National Theater. It will begin previews in the Terrace Theater on June 2 and run through July 5.
"This will be my Washington show," said ANT director Peter Sellars yesterday. "It's the one I've wanted to do ever since I arrived in town. In a very deep way that goes beyond any political point of view, Sophocles looks at the military urge, where it comes from and how we can deal with it. It is very important for us to consider what is and what is not honorable from a military standpoint, especially in these late days of the Libya raid."
In the tradition of classical Greek theater, which followed the performance of a tragedy with a satyr play (a short burlesque), ANT plans its own satyr play to round out the evening. Written by humorist George W. S. Trow and entitled "The Bob Hope Special Seminar," it will feature guest appearances by members of the Washington Redskins.
Sophocles' oldest surviving tragedy, "Ajax" recounts the tribulations of the reckless Greek hero of the Trojan War. Furious at being denied the armor of the slain Achilles, he sets out to slaughter the other Greek generals, but is deterred by the gods, who punish him with madness. ANT's version, which, Sellars says, treats the story as a "modern American play with no Greek references," has been written by playwright Robert Auletta. In it, the Greek generals have been turned into high Pentagon officials who have just concluded a victorious war in Latin America.
In addition to Seago, a veteran of the National Theatre of the Deaf, the multi-ethnic cast will include actor-playwright Samm-Art Williams; Aleta Mitchell, who appeared in the Broadway production of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"; Charles Brown, featured in "A Soldier's Story"; Ben Halley, Jr., Khim-Kyaw Maung; Lauren Tom; and Warren Manzi.
"Ajax" and "The Bob Hope Special Seminar" are the first scripts commissioned by ANT in what Sellars anticipates will be a continuing series. "The evening can be considered both the most ancient thing we've done so far and the latest," he said.