Monday, April 18, 2016

Comfort and affliction

Had the chance today to see one of the other projects of Outside the Wire, the program whose Job readings I've told you about, and whose director Bryan Doerries came to speak to my class. Today's event, part of their "End of Life" series, was at Sloan Kettering, one of New York's research hospitals, the audience mostly people in palliative care. The play read from was Sophocles' little-known "Women of Trachis," which ends with the hero Herakles, dying in agony of poisonous centaur's blood administered to him by a wife who thought it would revive him (and in horror kills herself), demanding that his son end his life - at one point calling him to "be a doctor" to him. (The story's a lot more complicated, and awful.) Its final line, spoken perhaps by someone in the chorus, is something like "everything you have seen here is God [Zeus]."

The structure of the event was like the readings of "Ajax" and "Philoctetes" which Doerries has taken to tens of thousands of veterans and their families (he writes about it in his recent The Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies can Teach Us Today), as well as the Job readings. Well-known actors read scenes, then cede their places at the table to representative community members who offer first reactions. Doerries then leads a discussion, organized around a sequence of questions, ending with some quips about tragedy's comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. It all works very well, and today's discussion, although abbreviated for reasons of time, opened up much.

Our friend the Book of Job showed up, too. In response to Doerries' final question, which inquired about the audience's sense of the meaning and significance of the final line of the play, one of the two doctors who'd started the discussion said it reminded him of the last lines of Job!

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