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Playwright explores peace in ‘Exia’

Posted on November 20, 2013 by Lethbridge Sun Times

The University of Lethbridge examines the other side of Greek tragedy and family with its production of University of Lethbridge guest playwright-in-residence Meg Braem’s original work “Exia.” It runs in the University of Lethbridge Theatre Nov. 19-23.

It explores the untold story of Chrysothemis, the peace-making sister in Aeschylus’ ancient Greek trilogy “The Oresteia.”

“It takes place in ancient Greece between the murder of the father and the murder of the mother. It is about the one sister who doesn’t have a story in the trilogy and isn’t hell-bent on revenge,” summarized playwright Meg Braem, adding the sister, Chrysothemis, played by Aimee McGurk, tries to keep the peace in the family by sitting them all down to supper together.

“She is seen as passive. I feel like she was judged in literature. She is part of the most volatile family in history,” she continued.

In “Exia,” patrons are transported to a sumptuous scene in ancient Greece. Chrysothemis and Elektra have returned home to discover their father, King Agamemnon, murdered by their anorexic and withdrawn mother.  Through the power and fragrance of her gastronomical talents, Chrysothemis attempts to bring her family back together.

“She hopes to make peace through the alchemy of cooking for her family. Because cooking is sort of  alchemy — transforming nothing into food,” she said.

The play runs approximately an hour-and-a-half.

Braem also just learned another one of her plays made the short list for the Governor General Award.

“Blood: A Scientific Romance” is also about family, though not quite as volatile a family as the Greeks in “Exia.”

“It’s about two twin sisters whose parents die in a car crash. The doctor ends up adopting them,” she said, adding the doctor experiments on them to study their bond.

“I guess I am focusing a lot on family,” she said, adding she is inspired by the politics and community nature of families.

She wasn’t expecting to be shortlisted for the play, which was staged back in 2010 by Sage Theatre in Calgary.

“I didn’t win, but it’s a huge honour. That was my first full-length play,” she said. “Blood” was her thesis for her master’s degree in plays from the University of Calgary.

While that play was written more normally with constant rewrites by the playwright on her own, “Exia” was a collaborative effort with director Gail Hanrahan and her New Plays Development class. 

That class includes cast members Erica Barr (who plays Electra), Aimee McGurk (Chrysothemis), Chloe Sando (Clytemnestra), AJ Baragar (Young Man), Matthew Lowry ( Aegisthus), Kyle Schulte (Ancient), Brianna Diodati (Middle and Shopper), Meredith Pritchard (Youngest) and Garrett Bishoff (Vendor) who developed their characters as part of the course.

“That was the most important thing for my class. They got to see the play develop from the beginning to the end,” said Hanrahan.

“It was a real gift. It is a beautiful play,” she enthused.

“The students learned about improvisation, identity and authentic movement,” she said, adding she hadn’t been involved in a production quite like this one, though she has been part of plays written by other University of Lethbridge playwrights like Ron Chambers.

Actress Erica Barr is excited about playing Electra, the 14-year-old youngest daughter.

“She’s a very angry young girl,” Barr described. “She was really close with her father before he was murdered. . . So she wants to seek revenge.”

McGurk plays the peace-making sister and chef Chrysothemis.

“She’s a peacemaker and she’s about trying to find a solution,” she said.

Barr enjoyed creating her character under the tutelage of dramaturge Vicki Stroich.

“We asked a lot of questions and I learned a lot working with the playwright,” she continued.

“It was a lot of work,” summarized McGurk, who had a lot more work as her character doesn’t have a story in the original trilogy.

“But it was a great learning experience. But this is a role every girl dreams of — getting to play a princess. And I’m on stage a lot,” she enthused.

“It’s great theatre,” added Barr.

“I think we’ve put something together the audience hasn’t seen before,” McGurk added.

Hanrahan is hoping audience will be affected by the play.

“The audience will be very moved,” she promised.

“It’s a tragedy, but it has a hugely emotional core,” she said.

“It’s an emotional play. It’s not dry and intellectual. I think everyone will be able to identify in some way with this crazy family,” she said.

Braem is already working on her next play, “The Cut Grass Carnival,” which is about a carnival touring Alberta during the Depression.

“Exia” is playing Nov. 19 – 23 in the University Theatre at 8 p.m. nightly.

Tickets are available at the University Box Office, Monday–Friday, 12:30 p.m. –3:30 p.m., or by calling 403-329-2616. Tickets are $18 regular, $15 senior, $12 students and are also available for purchase online: uleth.ca/tickets.

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