Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: David W. Booth/Elizabeth Granger, NIU School of Theatre and Dance
(815) 753-1337

March 27, 2008

NIU School of Theatre and Dance presents
world’s oldest play, ‘The Persians’

DeKalb — The Northern Illinois School of Theatre and Dance will present “The Persians,” the oldest known play, April 3 through 6 and 9 through 13 in the Stevens Building O’Connell Theatre II.

Written by Greek playwright and soldier, Aeschylus, “The Persians” is an eyewitness account of Aeschylus’s experience at the battle of Marathon against the Persians in 490 B.C.

“The Persians” is the story of the result of that battle, when King Xerxes of Persia returned home without his army. Xerxes led the largest military force ever assembled up to that time in an attack against Athens to avenge an earlier defeat of his father Darius. Despite being greatly outnumbered, the Athenians managed to outsmart the Persians and killed nearly all their men.

NIU will perform an adaptation of the ancient play written by actress and playwright Ellen McLaughlin. She wrote the translation for “The Persians” in 2003, in response to the invasion of Iraq. She felt the anti-war sentiment of the United States matched the anti-war theme of the original play.

“I wanted to do this play because Aeschylus wrote about the misery of what defeat meant for the other side,” she said. “The Persians were his enemies and yet he has extraordinary compassion for them.”

McLaughlin was commissioned to write the play by the late Tony Randall, head of the National Actors Theatre. Randall dropped his entire season to produce “The Persians,” and McLaughlin wrote the adaptation in just six days.

“It was such a whirlwind,” she said. “Everyone worked so fast, we didn’t even know what we were doing. But it was thrilling — the director came to my apartment at night to get new pages I had written for auditions the next day.”

Although “The Persians” is the oldest surviving play in Western literature, McLaughlin hopes audiences will be able to relate to her adaptation.

“Greek plays often feel old and creaky when you read them, so I wanted it to feel more immediate. There are definite disparities between my adaptation and Aeschylus’s original version, but I still wanted to do justice to the original content of the play,” she said.

Since it opened five years ago in New York, McLaughlin’s adaptation has been produced over twenty times.

In addition to McLaughlin’s unique adaptation, NIU’s production of “The Persians” will be special in another way. Director Chris Markle is dedicating this production to the memory of Julianna Gehant, killed on February 14, 2008, and to the men and women of Northern Illinois University, both currently serving in the armed forces and veterans.

The play runs April 3 through 6 and April 9 through 13 in the Stevens Building O’Connell Theatre II.

The Stevens Building is located behind the McDonald’s and Pizza Hut restaurants on west Lincoln Highway. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. weekdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for students. For more information and ticket information, contact the School of Theatre and Dance box office at (815) 753-1600.

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