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Friday, July 15 at 6 p.m.
Wednesday, July 20 at 8 p.m.
Sunday July 24th at 4:15 p.m.
They say: “A Greek chorus of four women sings and dances through the life of Socrates: his lovers (male and female), his family life, the battles he fought, and his courtroom trial. The background is Athens’ attempt to dominate the Mediterranean.”
However suggestive or provocative the title is meant to be, the Socrates of Bill Jones’ musical is more an example of integrity than any type of prowess. Guiding us through a portion of Socrates’ biography—-the 30 years preceding his trial and execution—-is a four-woman Greek chorus that sings musical accompaniment to the scenes. This Socrates welcomes lovers of all flavors, be they beautiful women, fellow soldiers, or his wife. What’s truly at heart of this matter, though, is the notion that Socrates was unjustly condemned by a violent and intolerant culture.
Socrates did not produce any philosophical writings. Roughly half of the play’s language is excerpted from translations of the texts by which we know him, those of his students and contemporaries Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. The a cappella musical numbers are influenced by a wide array of genres, everything from rap and doo-wop to beer-hall sing- alongs and hymnals. I suspect the lyrics came first. The remainder of the language is jarringly contemporary. In the place of classical logic we gets arguments such as (and I’m paraphrasing), “I do what you say, I just bathed, I smell good, don’t I?” Strange bedfellows, this threesome.
What the show has working for it is that its creative team obviously has a sense of humor. They’re playing for fun. The chorus is dressed in bright reds and purple, the armor is boldly plastic. When a masked soldier runs across stage warbling a war cry, emasculating the styrofoam Athenian statuary by ripping off their velcroed appendages, you know the moment is being played for the sake of levity.
The cast seems to be having a good time too. Jack Wassel has a measured, grounded presence as Socrates, and Jon Douglass’ creates an entertaining town idiot who leads the accusations against the philosopher. Katherine Mocho asks forgiveness in the program for having never sung in a play before. She need not; you wouldn’t know it. She, Alanna Mensing, Christine Lange, and Jen Bevan all have beautiful voices that are even more beautiful in harmony.
The structure could stand to be more streamlined. Jones presents a play within the play to address the unfairness of how Aristophanes characterized Socrates in his comedy The Clouds. He is trying to offer a thorough portrait of Socrates, but the point may be lost as the momentum wanes. His point of view gets decidedly more focused when he tackles the climactic trail and its consequences. Socrates, in his pursuit of wisdom has alienated powerful Athenians. He is accused of denying the city gods and corrupting youth simply by sharing his ideas, by being true to himself. Even if the cost is the highest price one can pay, we are being asked to consider the value of refusing to tow a political line or compromise our identity.
See it if: There is fun to be had in examining the life of an uncompromising man.
Skip it if: You were secretly hoping it’s about how Socrates was a badass in the sack.