The Frogs: Aristophanes With Strings Attached


Last weekend the amphibians finally had their day in the sun as The Frogs ruled for a few hours in the Dunster House JCR.

The Onion Weavers, a new student group formed in response to the "increasing specialization and politicization of extracurriculars," presented an (almost) all-puppet production of Aristophanes' ancient comedy, The Frogs.

Whether or not Aritophanes would have wanted it this way is hard to say. But without a doubt, the energetic and igenious Onion Weavers earn points for whimsy and creativity in their quirky interpretation of Aristophanes' already uproarious play.

Dionyshus (pupetecred> by Raphed Sperry), god of aged grape juice and its accompanying revelry, open the play with a lament for hometown Athena. The ongoing war with Sparta and the deaths of two, great tragedians, Aeschylus (Howard Miller) and Euripedes (Tanya Bezrah), have left the city in turmoil, Dionysius journeys to the underworld to fetch one of the late, great playwrights to save the war-torn polis.

The puppet show faithfully presents a series of frog-puppets, papier-mached, red-mouthed and bug-eyed. No Kermit lookalikes here, just an interesting and varied array of well-handled, gesticulatory ex-tadpoles.


The humans behind the scenes succeeded for the most part in bringing the little fellas to life, and their animated delivery kept Aristophanes' occasionally dense prose from getting too thick. Most puppeteers took responsibility for more than one part, proving the program's claim that the Onion Weavers truly are "Rennaisance" men and women.

The most dramatic moment of the evening took place during Dionysius' ride on Charon's ferry across the river Styx. A large boat, draped in a gloomy blue, spookily emerged and circulated through the audience, Dionysius rowing and Charon (also puppeteered by Sperry) booming irascibly.

Through the use of clever props and staging devices (e.g. puppet/human interaction a la Mr. Rogers) the production sustained momentum through occasional stretches of dauntingly historical material.

For part of what made Aristophanes great was his knack for incorporating current jokes and stereotypes in his plays. But this very quality can also make his work seem like one big ancient in-joke. Nevertheless, a steady stream of bawdy and silly jokes kept the eight-to-eighty year old audience members giggling.

To decide whether to bring Aeschylus of Euripedes to Athens, Dionysius stages a competition to "weight" the merits of their poetry. Many had puns ensue. The clever Euripedes is too "light;" the more philosophical Aeschylus literally tips the scales with the heavy line: "Chariot on chariot, corpse on corpse was piled." Literary theorists theorists today could stand to learn a great deal from this Dionysian, beer-in-webbed-hand approach to criticism.

The Onion Weavers probably had as good to time putting on the show as the audience did watching it. And any production that successfully incorporates the line. "Where is yesterday's garlic?" deserves a place in the puppet theater pantheon.