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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The Tonight Symposium

Michael Fowler

ED: Tonight, from the Theater of Dionysus in Athens, our special guests: playwright Sophocles; actress Téa Leoni; and the music of KRS-One! Plus, Doc Severinsen and the Theban Orchestra. I’m Ed McMahonides, and now, heeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny … !

Theme music.

Torches light up the Theater of Dionysus as JOHNNY steps out from behind the proscenium and joins ED in the orchestra. They sit and the music quiets.

JOHNNY: Thank you, thank you. Tonight our audience has joined Ed, Doc, the guests of “The Tonight Symposium,” and myself here in the Theater of Dionysos, where during the day it’s festival time. My first guest, the playwright Sophocles, won the top prize for tragedy last festival. He’ll be out in just a moment to tell us about the new play he has entered in this season’s competition. You know, Ed, Sophocles is hot these days.

ED: Is he ever.

JOHNNY: And I’m sure you know that Sophocles’ new play Oedipus the King is being performed in this very theater tomorrow.

ED: You can hardly beg, borrow or steal a ticket to that show. The scalpers are asking ten times ordinary price.

JOHNNY: I managed to see a dress rehearsal yesterday, and, Zeus, it’s something. Gave me the chills. Talk about a man gone mad, that Oedipus is whacked out! And speaking of a wacko, ladies and gentlemen, here’s Doc, leader of the Theban Orchestra!

DOC: May the wingèd steed Pegasus graze upon your sideburns, and the incessant piping of the goat-god Pan give you tinnitus.

JOHNNY: Doc’s still recovering from that head wound inflicted at Thermopylae, everyone. O.K., let me bring out our first guest. Please welcome the great dramatist Sophocles!


SOPHOCLES: (Sits.) Hey, Johnny. Hey, Ed.

JOHNNY: Wine, Sophocles? No? So, how’s it feel to have another potential hit play going? I understand if you take first, that’d be your third or fourth win in a row?.

SOPHOCLES: Yeah, let me tell you things been going great for me. I’ve had three first places and a couple of seconds the last five years.

JOHNNY: Not too shabby.

SOPHOCLES: And it’s so marvelous working with a troupe that’s willing to try out some of my innovations for the stage. This time we go all out.

JOHNNY: Yeah, now I’ve heard that this is the New Theater. Can you give an example of what modern stagecraft folks might expect to see at your show when they come?

SOPHOCLES: Well, for example, Oedipus puts out his eyes stage front, and at the same time goes crazy bleeding and screaming.

JOHNNY: I saw that! Unforgettable! Blood everywhere, spurting out of the eye sockets of his stylized mask as far as the first two or three rows of seats while he writhes and screams! That wasn’t real blood, now, was it?

SOPHOCLES: Oh, Zeus, no. Oedipus uses tomato juice for blood but he really gets into the act. Lots of emotion there. Extras in the parados spray tomato juice on the audience, too, to heighten the effect.

JOHNNY: But traditionally, as in Aeschylus, that sort of gory action and also murder and other unsavory shenanigans take place behind the scenes, right? So the audience doesn’t actually see them.

SOPHOCLES: That’s right, Johnny. Nothing against Aeschylus, now. He’s my man. But I think it’s time for a change.

JOHNNY: Aren’t you afraid the judges will say it’s over the top, and give you a second or a third place?

SOPHOCLES: Let me put it this way, Johnny. Have you been in war?

JOHNNY: I saw a little action in the Persian conflict.

ED: You are too modest, O Great One. You were captain of the legion in which I served as a corporal. General Miltiades said, if it hadn’t been for your sense of humor, he might have lost spirit and surrendered the entire Athenian army to the Persian host.

SOPHOCLES: O.K., so you’ve been in war, Ed’s been in war, Doc’s been in war, the judges have been in war, I’m in the reserves and haven’t seen war yet. But most of us have dealt with the sight of a bloody battlefield, so why not bring some of that vivid reality to the theater?

JOHNNY: I see your point. Anything else?

SOPHOCLES: Well, as you saw in rehearsal, Oedipus comes to realize that he’s had an incestuous relationship with his mother.

JOHNNY: I remember that. Touchy subject.

ED: Hi-yohhh! Zing, O Great One!

SOPHOCLES: You know it. And at that point, Oedipus becomes possessed by the devil and his mask twists so that he appears to look straight behind him.

JOHNNY: I didn’t know if you wanted me to reveal that or not. But I have to tell you, when that happened in rehearsal there were two stagehands near me, and one started screaming and the other got sick. I was terrified myself and kept looking over my shoulder for an owl spirit.

SOPHOCLES: I won’t divulge any more, but I can say this: sit far in the rear if you don’t want to wear green vomit the rest of the day.

JOHNNY: Would that be our own green vomit, or the actors’?

SOPHOCLES: You’re funny.

JOHNNY: Well, I know you need to get ready for tomorrow’s performance. Thanks for being with us.


JOHNNY: Now before we bring out our next guest, a man who ran all the way from Marathon with an arrow in his neck, it’s time to play Stump the Band with Doc and the Theban Orchestra!


Michael Fowler wears a penis patch for more inches and sucks only meatless lozenges. Something of a bon vivant, he enjoys going through revolving doors with women.