Argonautika
Season 07-08 Season

An Interview With Mary Zimmerman

• I’ve known the Jason story in the same way I’ve known other myths since I was little—from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, on which I’ve based my entire career! As a child, myths always felt to me like grown-up fairy tales. Like fairy tales, they contained adventures and supernatural elements. But I always sensed that there was a serious and darker layer to them, something taboo or transgressive about reading these myths. They moved and fascinated me in some way that hasn’t stopped.

• These stories don’t usually end happily, and the world changes or shifts because of the adventures in them. The contemporary or immediate relevance of this story for me is the futility of the conquest mission. Once they have the fleece, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. The conquering—of this Asian or Middle Eastern country—ultimately just brings destruction, and so much is lost. The whole mission is just a pretext—one man’s way of getting rid of his nephew, who he’s afraid is going to kill him. It’s important to remember that there’s a great futility to the entire heroic, idealized venture.

• Jason is a reluctant hero, as all epic heroes are. Joseph Campbell might say that the hero’s journey is one of self-actualization, and that’s not necessarily a painless, pleasant thing. Leaving our childhood is not something that we necessarily do willingly. One of my all-time favorite lines in the Odyssey is when Athena says to Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, “You cannot go on clinging to your childhood. You are not of an age to do that.” And it’s always like that: the goddess—generally goddess, not god—announces, “You have to do this thing; you have to be a man.” And it’s very onerous for the person who has to do it.

• One of my earliest images for the production was a girl with an arrow stuck in her. That’s actualized in the way it’s written; the metaphors are so solid. I imagined we would see her white dress get bloodier and bloodier from that very painful love. The depiction of love or lust in this show is dark, destructive. It renders someone helpless. In terms of the Medea myth, it’s important to be reminded that she was a virgin girl—just a maiden minding her own business—and the gods used her to help Jason on his mission by shooting her full of love for him. In our play, she even tries to pull the arrow out of her chest, and she can’t. It’s nothing she wants, nothing she asks for. She’s absolutely tormented by what it’s prompting her to do. But it’s the gods: she has no power over it, and she can’t escape it.

• The challenging part of adapting anything that wasn’t written for the stage is that it wasn’t written for the stage to easily accommodate it. How do you do a fleet of ships? Or 50 men on board? Or sea monsters or gods flying around? What should be compressed and what attenuated? You have to ask what are you going to prioritize in your adaptation? What is the essence of the story? And how can the manner of telling the story—the particular language and structure of the narrative—be preserved while still dramatizing as much as possible?

• I’m the director and I’m the writer, so when I’m thinking about what episode to use of something that’s multi-episodic, the choice often depends on what parts I have visual ideas for staging—and what will benefit from being staged. I start with no script. I write it bit by bit in the hours off from rehearsal, bring it in, and it builds everyday. I’m inspired by the physical capabilities and talents in the cast. I have to make certain major decisions before we start, in terms of sets and costumes, but once we begin on that first day, it’s a kind of free-fall. I’m under the clock; I use a normal rehearsal period of about four weeks.

• My process reflects my belief in the unconscious: by putting myself under such pressure, I lose self-consciousness, and I open up to the voice of the text. There’s really not much choice. I have crazy impulses, and I don’t have time to get scared or shy or second-guess them. They’re not the polite choices; they’re not even the considered choices often. In a way it’s like, how would we do this in the backyard?

From an interview by Lila Neugebauer, courtesy of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

1/3/2008

 

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