Savage Umbrella recasts Greek tragedy for 'The Ravagers'

​Savage Umbrella's latest piece, The Ravagers, takes its inspiration from The Suppliants, a Greek play by Aeschylus -- but in ways you might not expect.

"We're not using the Suppliants at all," says Laura Leffler-McCabe, the company's artistic director and one of the playwrights and performers in the show. Instead, the script plays with the story that comes before and after the play, which is the middle part of a trilogy. Those other volumes have long been lost, giving the creators an intriguing canvas to work on with the play.

Playwright and director Blake E. Bolan began work on the play while living in South Korea. "We knew we wanted to do a Greek play. I read The Supplicants. It's the only remaining piece of a trilogy, so there's a lot of openness in what you can do there," she says.

The Suppliants turns on questions of forced marriage and tyranny. In it, the 50 daughters of King Danaus are set to marry their 50 Egyptian cousins, but the king orders the women to kill their new husbands on their wedding night. All follow the orders, except for one.

"There are clues to what the plot is, so there was a lot to take from, but there was also a lot of room to make our own choices. We made several characters more important. Originally, there was not a voice for any one woman. In this, we have given everyone a personality," Leffler-McCabe says.

​Life in Korea also had an effect, and she thought back to the World Cup, when North Korea hired Chinese actors to be their "fans," so their own citizens wouldn't get a different view of the world. 

The project led to a pair of simultaneous workshops earlier this year, one in Minnesota and one in South Korea. Savage Umbrella Artistic Director Laura Leffler-McCabe led the local one, while Bolan handled the Korean side. Those twin projects come together in this first full production.

The material's message is very flexible. "People are able to lay on a lot of different dictatorships," Leffler-McCabe says. 

Savage Umbrella is the second company in recent months to use the old Hollywood movie theater in northeast Minneapolis, following Theatre Pro Rata's Waiting for Godot earlier this summer. The company knew they wanted a non-traditional space for the show, and after seeing the space on this year's Art-A-Whirl, they knew they'd found their home.

Since then, there has been a lot of work in cleaning up the space for their production, and exploration of how to use the space. Their goal is to use as much of the theater as possible, not only including a performing area in the theater itself, using both a large area that has been emptied of seats in the house, but the stage as well. Beyond that, plans are to move the audience during the second act to the lobby area, where three distinct scenes will play out, giving the audience a kind of "choose your adventure" vibe as they take in the later parts of the story.

"One incredible benefit is that we were able to write the script around this place," Bolan says.

That extends to the creative team behind the show, who have taken cues from what is around them.

"Coming in here was a real inspiration," says costume designer Sonya Berlovitz. "I took a lot of pictures so I could remember the colors and all of the distressed appearance. Some of that distressing will be in the women's costumes; they will have some raw edges and seams. Some of the costumes will be painted on, and I'm using the time period that the building was built in -- the 1930s -- and combining that all with contemporary effects."

The Ravagers opens Friday and runs through November 19 at the Hollywood Theater (2815 Johnston St. NE, Minneapolis). For directions, information, and tickets, visit Savage Umbrella online.

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