Thursday at the Bayview Opera House, Bryan Doerries staged a one-night-only reading of the Ancient Greek dramatist Euripides’ 2,500-year-old play The Madness of Hercules. For Doerries, the Brooklyn-based artistic director of Theater of War Productions, the reading itself was secondary -- almost beside the point. As he put it, “The audience is everything.”
The event, titled Hercules in the Bayview, is part of a series of staged readings that Theater of War presents to different communities around the country. Self-described as a “social impact company,” it uses theater to address a wide range of social issues. Doerries brought Hercules to the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood to initiate a discussion, he said, “about the timeless experience of violence.”
After the reading ended, a group of five panelists, chosen for their ties to the Bayview community, sat together on stage to talk about their experience of violence in the neighborhood. To focus the discussion, Doerries had instructed them to base their remarks on what moved them about the ancient play.
The figure of Hercules is best known today from his appearances in pop culture pictures. Disney drew him in bright primary colors. Kellan Lutz and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson attempted to embody him with their outsized chests. He’s the most masculine of Greek heroes, vanquishing armies, enduring his labors and subduing monsters.
But Euripides’ play is set after his famous exploits when, in an inexplicable fit, he kills his wife and children. The Madness of Hercules depicts a life that’s been suffused with and motivated by violence. The play’s mournful tone examines the emotional aftermath of living such an aggrieved life, as well as the devastation of carrying on after your loved ones are dead.
Gwen Woods was one of the community panelists on stage. In Dec. 2015, her son Mario was killed on 3rd Street in the Bayview. Woods spoke eloquently about her grief, finding parallels between Hercules’ request for his children’s burial rites and her own. “We buried that child with all the dignity he deserved that I wanted,” Woods said.