Vol. 2, Issue 7, February 17, 2004
The Joy of Liquid Shrimp!

Too Soon to Tell if Ancient Greek Drama Making Comeback

Despite the recent surge in popularity of ancient Greek theater, its future in the American entertainment industry is not yet assured, according to experts.

"Sophocles, of course, has been packing them into theaters for twenty-four centuries," said Glen Osterman, associate professor of Classics at Johns Hopkins and drama critic for the Baltimore Sun. "And Aristophanes really resonates with Americans today. But the question is whether these playwrights can connect with today's all-important 18 to 35 year old male demographic."

The past year has seen several successful adaptations of ancient Greek dramas and comedies, including the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore vehicle Philoctetes, which drew $46 million in its opening weekend.

"Adam Sandler has always been all about the question of human character and its origins," noted Osterman. "This role was a natural one for him."

Other noteworthy projects include the Bravo network's six-part adaptation of Medea, in which the tragedy is relocated to 1970's London; the NBC sitcom based on Aristophanes' The Acharnians, which is being groomed to take over for Friends after that series ends; and the MTV reality show Masks, in which seven strangers are picked to live in a house to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start wearing ancient Greek theater masks 24/7 while collaborating on a production of Euripides' The Bacchae.

"It's been a great year," admits Harvey Weinstein of Miramax films, which produced Philoctetes. "There's more kids in this town now who speak Ancient Greek than speak French. But I'm worried that we're just not reaching the hip-hop crowd."

Ratings for ancient Greek theatrical productions of all sorts, while reasonably strong, rely heavily on a smaller cadre of older, largely Caucasian viewers, according to analysts.

"The real test is whether we can tip the scales and gain a more lasting foothold in American pop culture," said Osterman. "The key will be the Oscars, I think. If Drew Barrymore shows up to the Academy Awards in a Dionysian mask, we'll be seeing them in Wal-Mart by the end of the week. Wouldn't that be something?"

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