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Arts

Spring Readings and Summer Dreams

NEW YORK – A new play by playwright Emory Wilson was read for feedback and potential staging by American Thymele Theatre on May 24, marking the 3rd Spring Readings Workshop of plays with classical themes. While The Father of Comedy, a play about Aristophanes (2020) and A Season in Sparta (2021) contained a theme that was chiefly Greek, this spring’s reading of Hit-List: Cicero had a Roman theme, still the closest one can get to ancient Greek culture.

“As it has long been pointed out and is evident in their methods of execution of the condemned, the Greeks fed hemlock for a painless death while the Romans shoved the doomed down a dark hole to be strangled or crucified them,” playwright Emory Wilson remarked.

The six-character play was read by Reagan Tankersley as Herennius, Samuel Wentzel as Popillius, Mikaela Duffy as Ursina, Ken Solway as Tiro, Stephen Diacrussi as Cicero, and Joe Staton as Philo. Gwendolyn Snow served as the moderator for the reading. Mr. Wilson himself joined the meeting and answered text-related questions posed by the actors and the invited guests for the event.

New York Euripides Summer Festival and the East River Park Amphitheatre

“It resembled 9/11/21 for me,” Stephen Diacrussi said. The veteran actor and founder of American Thymele Theatre and the New York Euripides Summer Festival further mentioned: “I was shocked to see the space where the East River Park Amphitheatre once stood reduced into an empty lot of soil. The amphitheater’s historic stage and the permanent, 2,000 seat bleachers had been demolished. It was a rather devastating sight for me to behold, standing just south of the Williamsburg Bridge. It was a unique structure in Manhattan that attracted theater goers and inspired many performers and directors who worked there, enabling them to break bread with the ancients and with ancient Greek open space theatrical tradition. At one time under water, it was spared by hurricane Sandy but not by the City of New York.”

Originally planned to resume performances at the East River Park Amphitheatre only for the summer of 2022, the amphitheater was unexpectedly demolished and trees were cut, to make room for the renovated East River Park, scheduled to be completed within the next two years. By now, the New York Euripides Summer Festival has produced almost all of the 19 extant Euripides dramas, all of which had premiered at the East River Park Amphitheatre, before being extended to other, outdoor and indoor stages around New York City.

Mr. Diacrussi, producer of the annual summer festival, mentioned that “the effect that the pandemic has had on the entertainment industry is utterly detrimental and potentially irreversible. I had no inkling that the few remaining Euripides dramas yet to be produced would suddenly take on a cinematic curlicue.”

As for the demolition of the East River Park Amphitheatre, he expressed deep concern: “The 1939-built amphitheater and its concrete stage should have been preserved and refurbished. This is where Joseph Papp, founder of Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theatre staged Julius Caesar in 1956, in addition to Sophocles and Aeschylus dramas presented here in the 1950s and 1960s. There were times when the amphitheater was filled to capacity when used for music events until very recently. Nature itself also suffered as a result of the amphitheater’s demolition when, over a thousand, many of them rare trees, were uprooted from the surrounding amphitheater area.”

He also declared that “it was actually the amphitheater itself that originally prompted my interest in staging classical repertory there, due to its resemblance of ancient Greek amphitheaters that originally shaped theater as we know it today. When I last drove down there, I was deeply saddened to witness the disappearance of a unique cultural complex that the amphitheater once represented for the public and the classical training for actors and directors alike. It now resembles an abandoned, petrified forest awaiting an uncertain renaissance.”

Greenspace, a Lower East Side preservation organization, was equally afflicted by this decision on the part of the city, to ultimately demolish the East River Park Amphitheatre and its majestic stage that had become a cultural inspiration for 80 years. American Thymele Theatre was the last company to have held live performances there and helped in promoting the amphitheater’s legacy until the summer of 2019. Regardless of how East River Park is restructured, the vast amphitheater and the outdoor theater experience it provided will just never be the same again.

From the reading of Emory Wilson’s new play Hit-List: Cicero (clockwise) Ken Solway, Stephen Diacrussi, Gwendolyn Snow, Emory Wilson, Mikaela Duffy, Reagan Tankersley, Samuel Wentzel, and Joe Staton. Photo: Courtesy of American Thymele Theatre

Former Productions Gain Academic Status

Striving to produce all of Euripides’ 19 extant plays, a couple have caught the attention of the academic community such as the pandemic, virtual edition of the New York Euripides Summer Festival’s filmed production of Helen, screened for classroom purposes at Columbia University in 2020. Helen was directed by Annabelle Lau. This past spring semester, Brown University purchased the American Thymele Theatre videotaping of the off-Broadway performance of the New York Euripides Summer Festival production of Hippolytus from 2013, also for classroom, instructional purposes. Hippolytus was directed by Stephen Diacrussi.

As certain pandemic-related production risks remain in effect for this summer of 2022, New York Euripides Summer Festival might again be compromised to non-indoor live performances necessary, to schedule ahead of time as rain date alternatives. 

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