Madness of Hercules Wows Audience in New York

A scene from the Madness of Hercules. Photo: Courtesy ATT Productions

NEW YORK – In an unusual reversal of the traditional staging of previous New York Euripides Summer Festival productions, Madness of Hercules thrilled the audience in a contemporary setting approach for the first time ever.

This American Thymele Theatre series attracted unusually large crowds as the New York Euripides Summer Festival was extended for the first time to Brooklyn, at the Elmira Kennedy Coursey Amphitheatre, in addition to the Richard Rodgers Amphitheatre and the East River Park Amphitheatre where the festival began nine summer seasons ago. The production photo is from the sold-out, closing Stage II Theatre performance on August 6.

The ancient play is a timely and moving tragedy from circa 422 BCE. As described on the website, “It depicts Hercules being driven insane by Madness and human beings trapped in a hostile world, sustained only by their love for one another and their sense of courage and nobility that cannot be defeated by authoritative forces.”

The entertaining annual festival brings wonderful ancient plays to the public for free each summer. As noted on the festival’s website, “Just like in antiquity, all performances are free of charge to the public.”

American Thymele Theatre (ATT) was founded in 1993 to promote and disseminate Hellenic culture in America, and has since produced several plays in Greek and in English, touring the country and New York City public schools, and bringing the New York Euripides Summer Festival to indoor and outdoor venues across the city.

As noted on the ATT website, “Theatre, as we know it today, developed in the sixth and fifth centuries BC in Greece, as a natural outgrowth of the annual Dionysian festivals, dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine, celebration and, by extension, the god of the human subconscious.

The most significant among these theatrical festivals was that of the Great Dionysia, held in Athens. These annual performances also contained religious rituals and, as a result, required a sacrificial altar, or thymele, which became the focal point of the activities.

The thymele (pronounced ‘timely’ or ‘ty-melee’ and ‘too-meh-lay’ in ancient Greek) was a circular, raised platform in the center of the orchestra (dancing floor for the chorus) used as a sanctuary and, during rehearsals, the director (usually the dramatist himself) used it, to better observe the overall action of each given production. For better acoustics, the thymele was also used by the flute players and other musicians in the performances.

Those who surrounded this sacred altar were known as thymelians and, in the Hellenistic era, as thymelici. The dramatic competitions-festivals were a major component of the religious rituals in honor of Dionysus throughout Greek cities.

Each city had its own amphitheatre. Archaeology provides evidence of such amphitheatres and, in certain rare instances, the precise location where the thymele once stood is revealed.

Eventually, thymele was used as a term to denote theatre in general and it is cognate to the ancient Greek word themethlon as well as to the modern Greek word themelion, both words meaning ‘groundwork,’ ‘basis,’ and, in an architectural sense, ‘foundation’.”

Audience members look forward to next year’s festival.