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Ancient tragedy illustrates modern warriors

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Senior theater arts major Timothy Stribbel, freshman political science major Melissa Ochoa and freshman theater arts major Arianna Olivares gaze into the mirror wearing masks from Sophocles’ play, “Ajax.” The actors created their own masks for the production. Some wore several different masks throughout the play. / photo by Kayla Salas

Senior theater arts major Timothy Stribbel, freshman political science major Melissa Ochoa and freshman theater arts major Arianna Olivares gaze into the mirror wearing masks from Sophocles’ play, “Ajax.” The actors created their own masks for the production. Some wore several different masks throughout the  play. / photo by Kayla Salas

Erica Sanchez
Staff Writer

The Greek tragedy “Ajax” taps into the mind of Ajax, a soldier who has been through the Trojan War and suffers from post-traumatic-stress disorder as a result. 

The production, directed by Sean Dillon, opened last weekend in the Dailey Theatre and runs through Sunday. 

In the play, as Ajax is trying to rejoin society, his traumatic experiences follow him.

Throughout the play, we see Ajax, a hero of the Trojan War, debating whether his life was still worth living after the horrific decisions he made.

Ajax felt entitled to Achilles’ armor after the Trojan War; however he was not granted the armor at all. 

Instead, the armor was given to Odysseus, another Trojan War hero. 

The cast of eight students took on the roles of Greek characters and gods, such as Odysseus, king of Ithaca; Agamemnon, king of Mycenae; Ajax, a Greek war hero; and Teucer, son of the river God Scamander. 

Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, delves into Ajax’s head and starts to drive him insane. 

She tries to alter his thought process regarding how he should react toward the situation of not receiving the armor that he felt he rightfully deserved. 

Athena in turn clouds Ajax’s mind and disorients his thoughts to make him believe that he has taken revenge on the Greek gods by killing them.

Some students performed multiple roles, including Paul Gamst, a graduate student, who played Odysseus; Menelaus, the king of Sparta; and Angelos, a cnthonic deity. 

The performance evoked a discussion afterward about the lack of support victims of PTSD, receive from society. 

“This play really highlights a piece of mental illness that we don’t really explore, which is PTSD, especially with the soldiers coming back,” said Natalie Roseli, sophomore theater arts major, who played Tekmessa. 

“When (Ajax) wakes up and finds out what he has done, he is distraught and humiliated because his honor as a warrior has been undermined,” Dillon said. “He is a laughing stock. He has made enemies with the Greeks because he tried to kill them,” 

“When Athena allows his mind to be restored to see reality again he becomes distraught and he begins to consider killing himself.”

The contemplation of suicide weighs heavy on his conscience.

The burden of his suicidal ideation simultaneously weighs heavily on his family, as well as the sailors who were by his side throughout the war. 

The discussion following the production was led by the actors and Associate Professor of Writing Judy Holiday. 

Holiday brought up the plays relevance in today’s society and how we are exposed to similar acts of violence today.

“Post-traumatic stress produces rage, and it is the gift that keeps on giving,” Holiday said.

The issue of status was brought up in the play, specifically in regards to the way humans view violence, Holiday said. 

During the play, when Ajax brutally slaughters animals thinking they were human, the audience can see his complete lack of humanity and no remorse. 

The scene showed how easy it was for him to see other human beings as nothing more than an animal, thus placing his status as higher than all of humanity. 

“Particularly with Ajax, it was a little hard to get into the mindset of the characters, especially because these characters have been through the tragedy of war and PTSD,” Roseli said.

The play, written by Sophocles in the B.C., was more than entertainment for the audience. 

The play illuminated themes that resonate today of society misunderstanding mental illness and those who suffer from various diseases.

“This play (is) holding a mirror up,” said Joseph Baum, senior theater major. “This is the way we are treating veterans who commit suicide. This is the way they are treating their families and it is not OK.”

“Ajax” continues through this weekend with performances at 7:30 p.m. today, and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. 

Suggested donation is $12 for general admission, $8 for staff and seniors, and $5 for students. 

Erica Sanchez can be reached at erica.sanchez2@laverne.edu.

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