Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Playhouse: THE SEVEN

It's been a while since I've gone to the La Jolla Playhouse for a performance, so last night was a treat. It especially interested me because what we saw was a "flipping" of Aeschylus' SEVEN AGAINST THEBES.

First, let me explain that quoted term. According to the play's book-and-lyric scribe, Will Power, "flipping"is a hip-hop term that "[takes] something and [keeps] the essence and the quality and the feel of it, but you make it something different." We're used to hearing "flipped" songs, where old music is sampled and turned into something new, and this is what Power did with this play, which is about the cursed sons of Oedipus.

The purpose of "flipping" a story that might not seem to have much relevance today is to create relevance, and Power does that by using the driving theme of being unable to fight fate. (Oedipus has cursed his sons, foretelling that they will destroy each other, and the sons spend the first part of the play denying it'll ever happen. You can guess what happens after that--it does happen and, in spite of themselves, they fall into fate's clutches.) They way I saw this play, this theme is applied to issues in the black community, echoing the question of whether a person is always going to have a defeatest (or as they say in the play, "slave") mentality or whether they're going to overcome it. The updated language is pop, but the message is just as strong as it was when Oedipus' sons were first cursed on paper.

Personally, I thought it was all brilliantly done: this work isn't only entertaining with its mix of hip-hop and classical, but it's got a lot of power as an educational tool. The play also got me thinking about my own work, because I've got a backburner project that "flips" a classic story, as well. With all the talk right now about copying ideas and words, I was wondering where my backburner work fit in-- is it coyping? Or is it what composers like Mozart do when they create variations on a theme?

Because *that's* flipping, and I'm fascinated by the possibilities here: the ability to take echoes from the past and turn up the volume to broadcast what's happening all around us today....

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