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March 2, 2021

Plays & Musicals Inspired by Greek Tragedies


Sometimes, a classic is a classic for a reason. The stories from Greek mythology have endured for thousands of years and are still told today. Explore these plays and musicals inspired by Greek tragedies below.

Antigone adapted by Lewis Galantiere, from the play by Jean Anouilh (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 4f, 8m)

This sweeping adaptation was first presented on Broadway in 1946. Produced in modern dress with Katharine Cornell and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, the Galantiere version of the Greek legend is informed by WWII Paris and the suffering inflicted by fascism. The play’s parallels to both post-war France and modern times remain exciting and provocative.

Blacktop Sky by Christina Anderson (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 1f, 5m)

Klass, a homeless young Black man, sets up residence in the courtyard of the housing project where Ida Peters lives. Triggered by a fatal confrontation between a local street vendor and the police, Klass and Ida quickly develop a precarious bond against the backdrop of a restless neighborhood. Inspired by the Greek myth Leda and the Swan, Blacktop Sky examines the intersection of love, violence and seduction.

Electra by Nick Payne (UK)
(Full-Length Play / 3f, 3m)

When a young Electra’s father is murdered by her mother, her world changes irrevocably. Ten years on, bound by grief and unwilling to forgive, Electra surrenders to an all-consuming desire for revenge that propels her towards a bloody and terrifying conclusion. This is a haunting new version by Nick Payne of Sophocles’ tragic masterpiece, Electra.

Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2f, 5m)

In Eurydice, Sarah Ruhl reimagines the classic myth of Orpheus through the eyes of its heroine. Dying too young on her wedding day, Eurydice must journey to the underworld, where she reunites with her father and struggles to remember her lost love. With contemporary characters, ingenious plot twists, and breathtaking visual effects, the play is a fresh look at a timeless love story.

Greek by Steven Berkoff (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2f, 2m)

This modern adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus is set in London, and tackles the societal decay of Thatcher’s England with deft empathy for the central love story.

Hadestown Book, Music & Lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 5f, 3m)

This intriguing and beautiful folk opera delivers a deeply resonant and defiantly hopeful theatrical experience. Following two intertwining love stories — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of immortal King Hades and Lady Persephone — Hadestown invites audiences on a hell-raising journey to the underworld and back. Inspired by traditions of classic American folk music and vintage New Orleans jazz, Mitchell’s beguiling sung-through musical pits industry against nature, doubt against faith, and fear against love.

Jasper in Deadland by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dark Comedy / 4f, 5m)

Jasper is lost in the living world. When you’re failing classes, kicked off the swim team, and your family is on the skids, life can feel like it’s going to hell. Yet, in all the disappointment, Jasper has his best friend, Agnes. In one night of teenage passion, Jasper and Agnes consummate a years-long friendship. But in the morning Agnes is gone, telling Jasper to meet her at their cliff. When he arrives there’s no sign of his best friend, only a swirling vortex to another world in the water below. Jasper dives into Deadland.

The Lightning Thief book by Joe Tracz, Music and Lyrics by Rob Rokicki (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Dramatic Comedy / 7 any gender)

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen and Percy is the prime suspect. Now Percy has ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

The Love of the Nightingale by Timberlake Wertenbaker (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 8f, 12m)

In this treatment of the Philomele myth, war hero Tereus takes his Athenian wife Procne to live in Thrace. She becomes lonely and begs him to fetch her younger sister, Philomele, from Athens to be her companion. During the arduous return journey, Tereus rapes Philomele and then cuts out her tongue. Despite Tereus’s claim that Philomele died at sea, the two sisters are finally reunited, whereby, through a disturbing puppet show, Philomele reveals her horrific ordeal. The sisters wreak their revenge in true tragic style.

This Restless House, Part 1: Agamemnon’s Return by Zinnie Harris (UK)
(Full Length Play, Drama)

Aeschylus’ Oresteia opens with Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter to the gods; an act which sets in motio
n a bloody cycle of revenge and counter-revenge. When he in turn is killed at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra, their son Orestes takes up the mantle of avenging his father, continuing the bloodshed until peace is ultimately found in the rule of law.

Zinnie Harris reimagines this ancient drama, using a contemporary sensibility to rework the stories, placing the women in the centre. Orestes’ leading role is replaced by his sister Electra, who as a young child witnesses her father’s murder and is compelled to take justice into her own hands until she too must flee the Furies.

The three plays that comprise This Restless House can be performed on their own or as part of a continuous evening. Part one being Agamemnon’s Return plays on its own, then parts two and three The Bough Breaks and Electra And Her Shadow play as different parts of the same evening.

My Deah by John Epperson (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6f, 2m)

In this outlandish reworking of Euripides’ Medea, Gator Hedgepeth, a former Mississippi football star, plans to abandon his wife My Deah — an ex-beauty queen from Louisiana — and marry Simplicity Bullard, the daughter of the corrupt Mississippi governor. My Deah’s bridge-playing buddies show up to play their weekly card game. Instead they get the domestic scoop from the touchy housekeeper Lillie V., and the physical education tutor of My Deah’s sons, closeted homosexual Coach McCallister. My Deah confronts her card-dealing friends as well as the Governor, and she lays her bloody plans. Her vengefulness leads to the murders of trashy Simplicity and her father, and ultimately to the deaths of her own senseless sons, Skipper and Scooter. Deus ex machina, faux-Greek style, enables My Deah to attempt getaway to anonymity in wild, inebriated, immediately pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. She hits the road, leaving Gator behind to live with the tragedy wrought by My Deah.

Oedipus at Colonus translated by Nicholas Rudall (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2f, 7m)

With this brilliant new translation of the classic splay, Nicholas Rudall completes his presentation of the Oedipus trilogy. Oedipus at Colonus forms a bridge between the events in Oedipus the King and Antigone, beginning with Oedipus returning to Colonus, after a journey of many years, just as Antigone seals her own fate.

Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 9f, 10m)

As The New York Times describes, “The play tells of a woman storekeeper and a handsome, guileless youth who comes in off the highway. A guitar player, he is a rural Orpheus who descends to rescue his love—not in Hades, precisely, but amid the intrigue, gossip and violence of a hot-tempered town… Orpheus Descending is one of Mr. Williams’ pleasant plays, with characters determined to free themselves from corruption, with some sensitive philosophical comments in passing about the loneliness of the human being condemned in his world to solitary confinement for the whole of his life. Mr. Williams is in a more humane state of mind than he has been in several years… The introduction of the musical vagabond to the friendless woman who keeps the store, their humorous talk, their serious talk, the simplicity of their liaison after they have come to know each other—all this Mr. Williams has written in his best style of mood, lyricism and tenderness.”

For even more plays inspired by Greek tragedies and myths, visit the Concord Theatricals website in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2015 5th Avenue Theatre production of Jasper in Deadland (Matthew Murphy)