JOCASTA is a 52-minute experimental film performance of the Greek tragedy The Phoenician Women written by Euripides. It was made in the summer of 2006 by a group of artists gathered at the beautiful, crumbling Great Stone Barn in New Lebanon, New York. This interpretation of Euripides’ play features modern elements mixed in with the ancient: we see Euripides himself, sitting at a desk amidst the stone walls, open to the sky, surrounded by candles, typing away on his laptop. The characters sometimes wear traditional Grecian garb; sometimes, more updated attire. Jocasta (played by Marty New) is the play’s central figure: a powerful, fierce woman, narrating her sorrowful tale. Often speaking directly into the camera, defiant, at alternate times draped in a black cape, body armor, or a silky slip, Jocasta is unfazed by the heavy rainfall or elements around her, despite her crushing vulnerability in this natural world.
The ambient noises of birds and the pattering of water on leaves dominate the score—but sometimes the static of a radio imposes, or the image flashes in and out as if on a television set. At one point four men in black with trombones, like a demented Greek chorus, gather in a clearing to play. Disembodied words or ancient letters taken directly from the play float across the screen. There are dancers who stand silently in the stone windows as if in the wings, stretching their bodies expressively—not directly involved in the story, their movements providing anonymous interpretation of what is unfolding.
The tension of the tale exists between Jocasta and her two sons (both played by Michael Potts, who is Euripides as well, writing the play even as it is being acted out—a sort of performance within the play within the film). Jocasta and her son Oedipus have slept together and bore children. Her life has been thusly filled with misfortune, misery, and desperate passion—but still, she maintains hope. Jocasta sits at a table in the overgrown hall of stones, filled waist-high with greenery growing wild, speaking of her woes, pleading with the Gods to end her suffering. Clouds pass overhead, just as they must have in ancient times; the barn appears almost like a decaying Grecian temple, its windows framing the blue sky. As the film progresses, these characters seem to change with the years: eventually they are clothed in a proper dress and tailored suit, waltzing together on the grass—a modern dance. Euripides’ story is old, but timeless. It transcends the ages. In JOCASTA’s final moments, the entire illusion is shattered, as Marty New’s small son runs from off-camera onto the set to embrace his mother, pushing the 4th wall back further; the camera pulls away and we see an entire film crew, those who have come together to make this piece all the way from the 21st century.
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