By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Feb 17, 2012, at 2:24 AM Updated on 2/17/12 at 5:32 AM
Comedy has a way of arising out of tragedy.
“Sometimes the best way to deal with a serious subject is through humor,” Amy Page said. “That’s very much the case with ‘The Frogs.’ ”
The Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote “The Frogs” not long after the deaths of two of the leading figures of ancient world – the writer Euripedes, whose tragic plays include “Medea,” and the philosopher Socrates.
The play was a way to “examine the role of art in people’s lives,” said Page, whose new translation of Aristophanes’ text will premiere this weekend at the Nightingale Theater.
“He’s asking if there is a real need for art, for poetry, for theater, or if it’s a luxury people can do without,” she said.
The way these ideas are explored is through a trip by a mismatched pair – a blustery deity named Dionysus and his wise-cracking sidekick Xanthias – to the underworld to bring Euripides back from the dead.
“What really stood out to me when I began working the translation,” Page said, “is that the humor still is pretty fresh. In fact, there’s almost a vaudeville quality to the early scenes – something that we’ll be playing up in our production.
“In fact,” she said, “a lot of translations I’ve seen tend to gloss over a lot of the comedy in the play because there is a good bit of what you might call ‘naughty humor’ in the play.”
“The Frogs” is the third ancient Greek text that Page has translated for the Nightingale Theater. She translated “Cyclops,” which was presented as a shadow puppet play in 2006, then in 2010 turned Plato’s “Symposium” into a stage play called “The Drinking Party.”
Page said she began studying ancient languages during her undergraduate years at the University of Tulsa, specializing in ancient Greek.
“I sort of put it aside when I went to law school, and only started getting back into it when I began working with the Nightingale,” she said.
Once Dionysus and Xanthias make it down to where the dead are, the tone of the play shifts to more of a black-comedy style, Page said.
Page endeavored to keep as true to the original text as possible, though this version of “The Frogs” makes some changes – such as dropping specific names from the texts that serve as the punchlines for some of the jokes.
“The idea was that these people would likely be in the audience, or the audiences would know so well who they were, that the joke would be more cutting,” Page said. “In that sense, Aristophanes was the Jon Stewart of his day.”
In keeping with Nightingale Theater traditions, “The Frogs” will feature scenes that incorporate shadow puppetry, elaborate masks and original music, provided by an on-stage band.
‘THE FROGS’ BY ARISTOPHANES
presented by the Nightingale Theater
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 16-18 and Feb. 23-25
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Tickets: $10. 918-633-8666