The New York Euripides Summer Festival (NYESF) presented Cyclops, a satyr play by Euripides, produced by the American Thymele Theatre (ATT) at three venues this year. The show premiered at the East River Park Amphitheatre on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Two performances were staged at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater at Marcus Garvey Park, and the final performance of this year’s festival took place at the Minor Latham Playhouse located at Columbia University’s Milbank Hall. All the performances were free to the public, “just like in antiquity,” as noted in the playbill.
Though most well-known for his tragedies, Euripides also wrote satyr plays. The satyr plays were tragicomedies based on mythology and featuring the mythological creatures the satyrs to delight and entertain the audience with their often bawdy antics in a form of burlesque. This third type of Athenian drama provided comic relief during the Athenian Dionysia, the festival in which ancient authors would submit three tragedies and one satyr play each. The satyr play was performed either at the end of the festival or between the second and third tragedies to lighten the mood of the audience. The satyrs with their goat-like appearance are the male devotees of Dionysus, the god of wine, and are usually involved in drunken hijinks and chasing after bacchantes, the female followers of Dionysus.
Cyclops is the only complete satyr play in existence, and though rarely performed, it is an entertaining play, depicting Book IX of Homer’s Odyssey. The action takes place on Sicily, by Mount Etna, where the one-eyed Cyclops lives in a cave and is attended to by the satyrs who had been shipwrecked on the island and forced into slavery. Odysseus and his men on their way home from the Trojan War make a stop at Sicily in search of food and find themselves on the Cyclops’ menu. Odysseus enlists the aid of the satyrs who though eager to help at first, in the end prove unreliable. The sly Odysseus manages to execute his clever plan to deal with the Cyclops anyway. The humor may be broad, but the skill of the actors and the direction of ATT founder, producer, artistic and stage director Stephen Diacrussi, add freshness to this over 2,000 year-old play. Fenton Li plays Silenus, the father of the Satyrs, with an enthusiasm fitting his role. Peter Mercury and Tristan Polania as the young satyrs exude whimsy and mischievousness, highlighting the joy that is essential to a satyr play. Patrick J. Leddy as Odysseus gives a fine performance with a strong vocal ability and solid enunciation. Andrew James Gordon also gives a strong performance, providing the menacing presence of the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Homer’s Odyssey makes no mention of satyrs in Odysseus’ outwitting of the Cyclops, but they certainly give Euripides’ Cyclops its lively character in this fun, if brief, play. The performance on Thursday August 3 was well-attended by a diverse audience, a testament to the continuing appreciation of the ancient Greek dramatic tradition even in the dog days of summer. The clear blue skies and low humidity on that late afternoon/early evening with the summer sun still shining seemed to transport the audience to ancient Athens for a charming and fun theatrical experience. All those in attendance look forward to next year’s festival.
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.