by Robert Beizer

All the world’s a stage and before Shakespeare there were the ancient Greek plays of Aeschulus, Sophocles and Euripedes; and there was the philosophy of Socrates.

Sam Tsoutsouvas as Socrates in Quintessence Theatre Group's production of PLATO'S APOLOGY running through December 5. (Photo by Bas Slabbers)

Quintessence Theatre Group is presenting PLATO’S APOLOGY: THE TRIAL OF SOCRATES at the physically condensed Sedgwick Theater on Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy section.

The play follows Plato’s Apology (Apology: from the Greek word Apologia, meaning explanation or defense; not to be confused with apologizing.), written by Plato after the trial of Socrates. It is a tour de force for veteran actor Sam Tsoutsouvas as Socrates. Mr. Tsoutsouvas is also the creator of the script from a translation of the Greek by Benjamin Jowett.

Sean Bradley appears as the accuser Meletus, in a small, but important role. We only hear the voice of Plato in the crowd.

Quite stunning is the sheer amount of material Mr. Tsoutsouvas had to contend with in what is, in reality, a full length monologue. Some knowledge of ancient Greek history and culture is probably useful as the program takes quite a bit of page space describing both the reasons for the trial and the manner in which the Athenians judged those accused of crimes.

PLATO’S APOLOGY is presented without an intermission.

The company only uses a small part of this once magnificent movie palace as its performance space. The front lobby and what was probably the grand lobby are utilized. The rest of the theater is walled off.

There is a platform stage surrounded by chairs in a theater-in-the-round configuration. This creates some difficulties for the director Alexander Burns in staging and acting and for hearing and seeing on the part of the audience. I, as well as many of my readers I’m sure, have seen and/or worked in theater-in-the-round situations and encountered the challenges.

I mistakenly placed myself on what would be the upstage side of the stage in a proscenium theater and found it difficult at times to hear and see Mr. Tsoutsouvas during the performance as much of the staging seemed to favor a modified proscenium sensibility, and I was seated along stage’s the back wall.

Some of the sound issues could be corrected by either treating the walls with acoustic tiles and/or curtains where appropriate and to have given more variation to Socrates’ movements on the stage space early in the production. The entirely bare stage (explained by the manner of Athenian trials) doesn’t afford him places to sit or pause during the play. The effect of flat space and difficulty hearing for me was that sometimes the words droned on without specific effect.

I would not want to see microphones used as the space is small and intimate. I would also have liked to sense the crowd throughout the performance, not just at certain moments. The on and off of the crowd noise was more distracting than a continuous low murmur, with outbursts, might have been.

All that said, I would encourage theater patrons, interested in a real life ancient Greek reality play, to visit the Sedgwick and see PLATO’S APOLOGY for themselves.

Adapted and performed by Sam Tsoutsouvas
Translation from the Greek by Benjamin Jowett
November 10 – December 5, 2010
Quintessence Theatre Group
The Sedgwick Theater
7117 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia PA

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