NEW YORK – The Dramatists Guild’s Friday Night Footlights series presented Clytemnestra in Hades by Richard Vetere in a dynamic online reading on December 4. The play, though originally written in English, was first produced in Greek in Cyprus, directed by Marios Theocharous. Vetere spoke with The National Herald about how the production in Cyprus came about as well as the Friday Night Footlights online reading which was the first presentation of the play in English.
The play begins with Clytemnestra reading the names of those killed in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 and putting their names in the Book of the Dead. She was given the task by Hades, the god of the underworld, himself who wants to see her time pass gently. He is in love with her and he knows that she wants to find her daughter, Iphigenia, and beg her forgiveness for allowing her to be murdered as a sacrifice to the gods by Agamemnon. Clytemnestra leaves the podium and searches Hades for Iphigenia.
Playwright Richard Vetere wrote Clytemnestra in Hades which was first produced in Greek in Cyprus. (Photo: Maja Wampuscyz)
Vetere told TNH, “In the summer of 2017 Marios was in New York City working at Lincoln Center and the actress who played Clytemnestra the other night, Maja Wampuszyc worked with Marios before, and brought him to me. She and I just did my play Lady Macbeth and Her Lover in the Fringe Theater Festival in NYC. It seems that Marios wanted to work with me and thought he could get a grant to commission me to write a play about Clytemnestra. So we had a meeting. Marios had the idea the play should be set in Hades and that she was searching for her daughter. I came up with the idea of starting the play on 9/11 since this war has lasted longer than the Trojan War. Marios loved the idea and went back to Cyprus to secure the commission for me and I started the play. Maja Wampuszyc was to play Clytemnestra.”
About the process of writing the play, he said, “I did a lot of research since my memory of Clytemnestra needed to be refreshed. Being reminded that she had slain both her husband and Cassandra and was killed by her children Electra and Orestes and her sister was Helen of Troy catapulted into inspiration. Just to be able to write these characters in a drama set in Hades and have Hades in the play is a playwright’s dream.”
When asked how long the process took, Vetere told TNH, “I work fast and I handed in the first draft in a month or so and then did another draft. Marios was pleased and we opened at the Pocket Theater in Cyprus in 2017. The play was done in Greek. You have to ask Marios who translated it, but I think he did. But doing the play in Greek left Maja out of the production.”
An ad for the play Clytemnestra in Hades when it was performed in Greek in Cyprus. (Photo: Courtesy of Marios Theocharous)
He continued, “Then the play sat dormant until I entered the lottery for the Friday Night Lights Dramatist Guild and won! Maja and I work together a lot and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to play Clytemnestra. We both went to Amanda Moresco to direct since we all belong to the Playwright/Director’s Workshop at the Actors Studio where we cast the play with members from the Actors Studio.”
Of the ancient Greek characters, Vetere told TNH, “Clytemnestra is one of the greatest characters in literature. Think about it – she is a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, and a Queen! She has her eldest daughter sacrificed by her husband, she kills him and his lover and is then killed by her son and daughter. It's a level of undeniable identification for all people in its drama and mostly its tragedy. I believe my making Hades fall in love with her is what makes it the most universal and most human with the irony being – he is a god.”
When asked about the ancient plays and how they still offer inspiration to artists and insights into society even today, Vetere said, “The ancient plays are a great inspiration for artists and society today. The reason being is that in most contemporary writing today in not only theater but TV and film, I find the writers shy away from large passions, meaningful tragedies, and true themes. Also, it affords performers the opportunity to play great and grand personalities as potent today as they were then.”
A Q&A session with the cast, director, and playwright followed the Dramatists Guild Friday Night Footlights reading in which many of those in attendance shared their congratulations and appreciation for the talented artists involved in the reading. The performers were: Nelson Avidon as Hades, Maja Wampuszyc as Clytemnestra, Aprella Godfrey Barule as Helen of Troy, Gabriel Furman as Orestes, Czarina Mada as Electra, Elizabeth Grullon as Cassandra, Liana Sonenclar as Iphigenia, Ryan F. Johnson as Agamemnon, and Susan Izatt reading Stage Directions.
Everyone also hoped to see a New York production soon and Vetere mentioned he would like to bring Theocharous to New York to direct.
More information about Richard Vetere is available online: http://www.richardvetereauthor.com/.