Target Margin Theater is not interested in the appearance of tradition. Instead, in its 2007 season, the company aims to continue Greek drama's tradition of civic dialogue. As Yet Thou Art Young and Rash, directed by David Herskovits, adapts Euripides' The Suppliants into a beautiful and moving elegy for soldiers killed in the Iraq War.
The production draws on very appropriate source material for this purpose: the Euripides play in which a city resolves to retrieve their fallen soldiers from a war zone and to give them a proper burial. The Thebans have defeated the Argive army, but they won't allow the enemy soldiers to be buried. King Adrastus of Argos (Stephanie Weeks, sporting a long white beard) and the grieving Argive mothers (Mary Neufeld and Tina Shepard) have fled to Eleusis to beg Aethra (Mia Katigbak) to convince her son, King Theseus of Athens (Satya Bhabha), to retrieve the corpses of the dead. Of course, this request brings about the possibility of another war.
The actors speak their lines slowly and deliberately, sometimes pausing several times within a sentence. At one point, a grieving Eleusinian mother talks about the destruction caused by the war, intoning, "I [pause] don't know [pause] what [pause] to [pause] say." Once you move past your initial impatience, the purpose of all this becomes obvious: The performers are savoring each line, throwing nothing away, and commanding the audience to pay close attention. When an actress says "You choose the sword instead of reason to settle all disputes," the pause she takes becomes an indictment of the audience and the American people.
The undercurrent of commentary on the Iraq War doesn't become apparent until Theseus and his army enter Thebes. As they encounter the "seven" fallen soldiers, a stagehand brings out an old projector that displays a five-minute slide show of young men and women. It takes about a minute for us to realize that the pictures we're seeing are soldiers who have died in the war.
As these images are shown, the actors read testimonials from the families of the deceased -- anecdotes from parents about their children, spouses about their courtship, and friends about their times together. Another member of the company lights oil lamps, calling to mind the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The production design is full of subtle yet gorgeous touches. Wheat is the first thing one notices, as bundles of it are tied to bouquets of autumn flowers and decorative cobs of corn at every corner of the stage. Additionally, a bright yellow felt representation of wheat is stitched onto a green quilt that is hung toward the back. In this way, set designer Susan Barras calls attention to the fact that the story begins at the Temple of Eleusis, which is associated with Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Meredith Palin's costumes come in earth tones, and Juliet Chia's lighting accents the carefully crafted atmosphere to perfection.
Jane Shaw's sound design and David Rosenmeyer's original music are higlhly effective; one can hear an acoustic guitar, a cello, and even the unmistakable twang of a Jew's Harp, an instrument that the Italians call the scacciapensieri (literally, "it drives away thoughts") for its meditative qualities. At one point, the company sings a protracted version of "Home on the Range" with such intention and feeling that audience members may think they're hearing the words of the song for the first time. Like everything else about As Yet Thou Art Young and Rash, the moment is full of grace and intelligence.