Soulpepper’s Idomeneus puts an uncannily modern spin on an ancient tale

IDOMENEUS by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by David Tushingham (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs to March 24..


IDOMENEUS by Roland Schimmelpfennig, translated by David Tushingham (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Runs to March 24. $35-$95. 416-866-8666. See listing. Rating: NNNN

The story dramatized in Roland Schimmelpfennigs Idomeneus is one of the most ancient Soulpepper has ever staged, yet under Alan Dilworths direction it feels uncannily modern. The play is not only about storytelling, but also about how every version of a story can be true in its own way. Dilworth has forged his 10-member cast into a tightly bound ensemble that lends this tale undeniable power.

On his way home after 10 years fighting in the Trojan War, Idomeneus (Stuart Hughes), King of Crete, encounters an enormous storm. Idomeneus prays to the sea god Poseidon that if the god saves his life, he will sacrifice the first living thing he meets on shore. As fate would have it, that first living thing is his son Idamante (Jakob Ehman).

In one version, the king kills his son and is in turned killed by his outraged people. Then a chorus member (Frank Cox-OConnell) insists that is not what happened, and the performers play out the more familiar version where Idomeneus refuses to kill his son, but that refusal to honour a promise to a god leads to the outbreak of the plague in Crete. Thus, in either version Idomeneus is punished.

As in Schimmelpfennigs The Golden Dragon seen at the Tarragon in 2012, the story is told by a chorus whose members take turns narrating. Some chorus members become main characters for a while before rejoining the group, looking like ghosts risen from funerary ashes. The purpose of some of Dilworths ideas are unclear such as the use of an electronic sound to signal scene changes and the rushing of the cast about the stage before each new scene.

Nevertheless, when Hughess Idomeneus speaks at the end about hanging onto life, his unsettlingly mixed tone of defiance and doubt chills us with the plays underlying point. Is life worth living when divorced from everything and everyone a person has loved?

Although just over an hour, Idomeneus digs deeper than many other much longer plays into questions of what makes life worth living and what makes stories worth telling.

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