Three and a half stars
Butler University Theatre; directed by John Green; Oct. 23-26
With the same marble staircase set, Butler revisits the tragedy of Phaedre that the university presented a few weeks ago. In Phaedra’s Love, written by British playwright Sarah Kane, Phaedra is still consumed with love/lust for her stepson Hippolytus, but here he is envisioned as your worst nightmare of a grown son living on a diet of TV, junk food and masturbation. He is continually visited with sexual favors from his royal subjects — stepsister, stepmother, servants and even a priest — but never gets any pleasure. He is disgusted with them all, himself and life. In contrast to Racine’s 17th century version, in which agonies seem like vengeful gifts from the gods, Kane’s is a modern angst relying on the emotional traps that humans have set for themselves repeatedly for centuries. The only happiness is in death, and to Hippolytus’ relief, an angry mob is ready to deliver it. John Green depicts sexual debasement and violence in a way that, though unflinching, does not debase the players or viewers. Some of the acts are narrated by a stage right “playwright” and others are enacted with gaudy red lipstick prints that symbolize both heartless sexuality and a more heated hate. I continue to admire Green’s ability to workshop his players — and his audience — through a range of themes and styles.