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Getty Villa's theater series to feature Aztecs, vengeance, warfare, love -- and singing frogs

February 15, 2010 |  5:58 pm

Spousal self-sacrifice, spousal murder followed by filial revenge, the fateful clash of empires, revisionist mythmaking — the Getty Villa’s 2010 theater season won’t lack for weighty matter. And, with L.A.’s Troubadour Theater Company applying its patented cracked approach to the classics to Aristophanes’ comedy “The Frogs,” it shouldn’t be missing a tuneful sense of silliness, either.

The biggest show will be “Electra,” a fully staged production of Sophocles’ play, running Sept. 2-Oct. 2 in the Villa’s outdoor theater. The tale of a brother and sister teaming up to take vengeance on the mom-and-paramour team that did in their warrior dad will be staged by Carey Perloff, longtime artistic director of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, with a newly commissioned translation by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker.

The four other presentations will be workshops and readings of unfinished shows getting early public airings in the Villa’s smaller indoor auditorium.

GettyEagleWarriorThe biggest departure from the Getty series’ theatrical norms of both traditional and re-imagined versions of ancient Greek and Roman tales figures to be “Proyecto Azteca” (May 14-16). The multimedia work considers the blood-drenched encounter nearly 500 years ago between the Aztec empire and the Spanish forces of Hernan Cortes. The workshop, directed by Mexican playwright Maria Morrett, will combine passages in Spanish, English and Nahuatl, while drawing upon Octavio Paz’s Aztec-influenced surrealistic love poem “The Sunstone.” The staging by CalArts’ Center for New Performance dovetails with “The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire,” the Villa’s first exhibition of ancient art (including the eagle warrior, pictured) that’s not primarily focused on the Mediterranean world.

Big Dance Theater of New York City will perform a movement-theater version of “Alkestis,” which opens the Villa season with a workshop staging Friday to Sunday. In Euripides’ play, a queen volunteers to die in her husband’s place  — with complications arising when Hercules blunders onto the somber scene looking for some royal hospitality. The translation is by Canadian poet Anne Carson, who provided the text for the Villa’s 2006 production of Euripides’ tragedy “Hippolytos.”

In “Helen” (March 5-6), a rarely performed work by Euripides, Helen of Troy is reconceived not as an adulterous casus belli, as the standard myth of the Trojan War has it, but as a faithful, loving wife  — not unlike Penelope in “The Odyssey”  — whose steadfastness pays off in the end. The reading, free but requiring reservations, is presented by L.A.’s Playwrights' Arena, with Jon Lawrence Rivera directing.

Troubadour Theater Company is known for fracturing classic story lines and spicing them with songs culled from the rock-era pop songbook  — one example being “Oedipus the King, Mama!” a 2009 Villa Theater Lab offering in which Sophocles met Elvis (it’s scheduled to run again April 10 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach). Now comes Aristophanes’ “The Frogs” (March 19-20), to be done as a reading with the musical concept not yet announced. We’ll let you know when we find out.

Aristophanes’ original  — previously adapted as a musical by Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove  — concerns the god Dionysus’ trek to the underworld to bring back the world’s greatest playwright. Could a tribute to Lennon, Hendrix, Holly, Jim  Morrison and other all-too-mortal rock immortals be in the offing? Maybe there’ll be room for a chorus of “Ain’t Got No Home,” the delightful R&B nugget in which Clarence “Frogman” Henry earned his nickname singing “I’m a lonely frog/I ain’t got a home,” in a suitably croaky voice.

-- Mike Boehm


A curriculum of classics

Photos: Getty Villa's outdoor theater. The "Proyecto Azteca" theater workshop dovetails with a Getty exhibition of ancient Aztec artifacts, including this 15th century eagle warrior sculpture. Credits: Stefano Paltera / AP (theater); Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City/CONACULTA-INAH-MEX/foto zabe (eagle warrior).