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Review: 'Frogs' Breaks From Classical Tradition

The Harvard Classical Club turns Euripides’ Frogs into a hilarious modern spectacle

By Alexandra D. Hoffer, ON THEATER

After last week’s production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women at the Agassiz Theater, this weekend The Harvard Classical Club put that venerable playwright on the stage wearing a black beret, sniffing a rose and declaring “iamb the man!” while kicking Aeschylus in the groin in their production of Aristophanes’ The Frogs.

The Frogs revolves around the adventures of Dionysus (Nick J. Reifsnyder ’05), the god of drama, who is distraught by the horrible quality of tragedies that are being written. With the help of his comic slave Xanthias (Joe L. Dimento ’05) and the soup-obsessed Hercules (Brandon J. Smith ’04) he descends into hell to find a better playwright. In the second half, two dead poets, the tweedy old-fashioned Aeschylus (Benet Magnuson ’06) and the Bohemian Euripides (Alex H. Salskov ’04), face off in a battle of the bards to determine who is more worthy to return to the surface.

The action-packed first half proves more entertaining than the second—when the bards engage in a poetry competition that deals with topics like whether Aeschylus or Euripides uses a more inventive meter. While The Frogs adds diversion with tap-dances, drag muses and impressively over-the-top poetry recitations in the second half, the descent to hell is inherently more dynamic.

A group of nine undergraduates wrote the loose translation used in this production, which generally follows the lines of the original text but also fills it in with topical allusions and makes allowances for modern settings. The characters are in modern costumes, which appear to have come from the cast members’ closets (instead of a lion skin, Hercules makes do with a fake leopard skin jacket). The staging has likewise been updated; Dionysus brandishes a copy of Let’s Go Hell, the infernal judge Aeacus is an Army drill sergeant, and the contest between Aeschylus and Euripides is presented as a game show. While bizarre, these settings make good sense; the Chorus political moralizing is far more palatable when presented as part of a protest by flower children, and it only makes sense that the ferrier to the land of the dead (Ian Maisel) would be a death metal fan.

The humor of The Frogs is not subtle or witty—the tone, for instance, is set during the opening lines, in which Xanthias complains about the size of the large “package” he must carry. There are a number of moments where laughter is motivated not so much by actual amusement as by the shock of disbelief, as none of the jokes are particularly outstanding. Yet this production is incessantly likeable, propelled by the sheer enthusiasm of the cast. The entire enterprise is so cheerfully bizarre and unrepentently unsophisticated—the eponymous frogs, hopping to dreamily surreal live guitar (courtesy of the Makoto Concern), wear goggles, green tank tops and foam froggy headbands—you can’t help laughing at even the worst puns. One only wishes there was no intermission—the 10-minute break in this short play brings the comic momentum to a screeching halt just when it’s gathered to a head.

The set, designed by Emma Firestone ’05, is fairly low-key and functional, consisting of a wall and a doorway or two. The back wall, borrowed from the set of The Trojan Women, is covered with graffiti displaying the words “Romani eunt domus,” and “frogs” in Latin and phonetic Greek, as well as a flaming skull.

To add to the incongruous hilarity the Friday, Saturday and Sunday productions of The Frogs featured cameo appearances by Professor of Romance Languages and Literature Lino Pertile as Dante, and Professor of Latin and Greek Richard F. Thomas as Virgil.

While the Classical Club’s production of The Frogs is not great art, it turns classical subject matter into great fun.

—Reviewer Alexandra D. Hoffer can be reached at

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