Elon University recently produced an adapted version of Ajax which was written by Sophocles and translated by R.C. Jebb. It ran from April 14 to April 17 at the McCrary Theatre Center for Performing Arts on Elon's campus. Director Kirby Wahl, with his large cast of college actors, incorporated original music by Jim Roberts. Ajax, a famous war hero, suffered from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and fell victim to the illness. The goddess Athena tried to keep him from killing his fellow soldiers by putting him under a spell. In place of the men, he killed sheep and cattle. Eventually though, the post-traumatic stress caused him to kill himself.
Actors Corey Warren, who played Ajax, and Kristina Loeffke, who played his love interest, Tecmessa, created a believable world of heartache and pain. Ajax was blinded by his delusions and Tecmessa could do little to help him despite how much she loved him. The large cast filled the stage for a large portion of the show. The powerful energy stayed consistent through the long two act production. The widely talented cast should be praised for the endurance they displayed.
While the play was written in the fifth century B.C., Wahl updated the piece to display a "near-future military conflict." However, the classical language was not changed. The costumes clearly placed us in a desert as the soldiers wore uniforms similar to what our nation's soldiers wear in the Middle East today. If that was not enough of an update, Wahl chose to insert a rap and dance session to modernize the work. It felt a little out of place when juxtaposed to the classical language, though.
Wahl's director's note includes the quote from a woman named Heidi Plumley. She was the girlfriend to Sergeant Jacob Blaylock who committed suicide in December 2007. This is what she said about her boyfriend's illness: "I tried to understand. But he would get mad at me and tell me that I don't understand. I would never understand. I'd have tears pouring out of my eyes, and he'd say, 'But you don't know, you don't know anything, you weren't there.'" Wahl wants us to think about our soldiers at war and "what we ask of those who fight our wars." If that is the question I am being asked, then after seeing Ajax it feels like I should never be the girlfriend of a man in the military. This production left the audience with no hope for serving our soldiers with PTSD. After all, it is a tragedy.
I left the theater conflicted. After a week of trying to understand what Elon was trying to say with this tragedy (and with being almost too angry to write a fair review), I found that my anger was exactly the aim of the production. After being so mad that they made the story almost too close to home with no message of hope or direction for change, the audience can find that we were in fact moved to change and offer the much needed support for our troops abroad and those returning home.