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"SIRENS; Elektra in Bosnia"

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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Written by Caroline Elworthy

This coming week,  The School of English and Theatre Studies will present SIRENS; Elektra in Bosnia, a play written and directed by Guelph’s associate Professor and acclaimed Canadian playwright and Governor General winner, Judith Thompson. The production begins Monday the 17 and will have a performance nightly at 8pm in the George Luscombe Theatre, until this Saturday, November 22.

                The opening night of Elektra in Bosnia this past Monday, November 17 held a captivated audience in complete shock as a talented U of G cast delivered a startling performance under the skillful hand of Thompson.

As the lights dimmed in the George Luscombe theatre, a series of stark gunshots rang out, instantly transporting the audience from the hallowed theatre walls to a scratched and war torn Yugoslavia. The Bosnian War began in 1992 and was essentially a conflict of land between the Croats and Serbs, the two major groups which occupied Yugoslavia at the time of its turbulant politcal disintegration.  

                The plays beginning narration was executed by “The Furies”, a small clan of mythical female avengers who represent all women in their endless thirst to requite the atrocities imposed on all women who have suffered in wartime, and especially mothers. The Furies, played by Teva Albanese, Cassie Davidson, Caiti Malone, Jacueline Ritch and Cassanda Wolff operated similar to a Greek chorus throughout the play’s narration and used their chillingly harmonious vocals and beautifully choreographed dance to pour an artistic sense of raw emotion and human suffering into the play’s heartbeat.  

SIRENS: Elektra in Bosnia is a contemporary reworking of the Classic Greek drama by Sophocles, borrowing characters and thematic elements from Greek mythology and re-contextualizing them with artistic grace to expose the atrocities of the Bosnian war. Giving a voice to the thousands of women silenced by the brutality of war, “Elektra in Bosnia” illustrates how family can be ripped apart by the numbing violence of war, yet ends with on a subtly suggestive note of forgiveness and  leaving the audience to ponder the effects of war upon the human spirit.

The role of Elektra- a young girl torn apart by her mother’s disinterest, a raging sense of jealousy, and a loathing sense of frustration for herself, was played by the talented Shauna Thompson. Thompson embodied Elektra down the last syllable, breathing life into the ancient character in a startling performance. The intense mother-daughter complex was skillfully explored by Rochelle Richardson and Thompson, depicting a relationship clogged with grief and jealousy.

“I wanted to bring my adaptation of Elektra to Guelph because I felt it was both an artistic and educational challenge” says Thompson of her inspiration to produce a play which stabs right at the heart of a politically tender period of human history.

The Bosnian war conflict was essentially created through the breakup of Yugoslavia and resulted in the Bosnian genocide and countless war crimes against humanity, as the Serbs and Croats viciously fought for territory and power. During the three year conflict, a population of around four million people over half was made refugees, suffering through unspeakable conditions. In the three and a half years of conflict, over 100,000 people were killed.  

“This play is set in Srebrenica, which famously was intended as a U.N. protected city, and instead
 became the site of the massacre of at least 8,000 Muslim men and boys, as well as many women” says Thompson. Years after the massacre, graves continued to be discovered and family members contacted for mass reburials. The atrocities of this war are painful to recall, as thousands of women were sent to “rape camps”, where many were brutally killed and beat.

Elektra in Bosnia was originally written by Thompson who was commissioned to adapt the classical Greek drama to be presented by the Canadian Embassy in Athens as part of the “Women & War Project”. This project included the unveiling of three Greek tragedy adaptations as written by three internationally acclaimed playwrights, Thompson representing Canada among them. The play were they performed in various locations throughout Greece, and looked to bring attention and acknowledgement to horrific wars crimes which are buried deep within the human race’s conscious. The “Women& War Project” gathered recognized social scientists and theatre artists in hopes to create a global acknowledgement on the theme of women and war, cultivating a wider global awareness of the oppression and silence during wartime.

“Over the semester, the students grow as theatre artists and as political aware young people.” Thompson reiterates, as she describes how the cast had to first become educated on the atrocities of the Bosnian war and genocide before they could truly digest what their characters needed to portray.

“My greatest challenge is that the imitation of violence on the stage can be very traumatic for the actors, especially student actors, and for the audience; however it is necessary to reveal the truth. I hope that the audience will be challenged to really think about violence against women then and now, and be provoked into finding a way to end it. Just because it has always been so does not mean it has to continue.” Thompson concludes.

Thompson has done it again; produced a chillingly thought provoking play by skillfully weaving together spoken word, choreography, and musical talent into a seamless production which dives courageously into painful periods of human history with artistic grace.

For tickets or more information on SIRENS; Elektra in Bosnia, please visit the School of English and Theatre Studies at www.uoguelph.ca/arts/sets-presents-sirens-elektra-bosnia

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