Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘The Clouds’ portrays Greek comedy

A tall man flicked his paintbrush toward the large structures that sat atop the stage in order to distress them. Cornflower blue, antique white and a realistic stone texture decorated the set. With gold door handles, a large balcony and a bright blue dome that sat atop the outhouse, it is obvious that no detail went overlooked. 

An actress in the show waved a toilet brush that had been coated with flour about the stage, practicing her lines. The flour poofed in a cloud of smoke barely visible to the people sitting in the audience. She asked Laura-Jean Schwartau, Plattsburgh State theatre department lecturer and play director, if it is visible to the crowd. Schwartau tells the actress she could use a little more. In an instant, she is back, and the cloud of flour is larger and much more suited to Schwartau’s liking.

It is not just a puff of flour that Schwartau paid a great deal of attention to. The entire adaption of “The Clouds” needed more attention and care than what meets the eye.

“I had to read several plays before I decided on this [one],” Schwartau said. 

According to Schwartau’s dramaturgy and directors notes, out of approximately 40 plays that were written during the fifth B.C.E. by Aristophanes, only 11 scripts survived. 

 In these notes, the Aristophanes-version of Socrates is a “farcical caricature based on popular criticism of the great teacher.” During the time this play was originally written, Socrates pursued new education techniques with his Socratic Method. He often questioned the existence of Greek gods and Athenian democracy, which many believed to be the root cause of school-age children acting out. Apparently, The Clouds was what sealed Socrates fate as it turned Athenians against him due to his character portrayal. 

On the theatre department’s calendar, “The Clouds” is described as a Greek comedy that focuses on Strepsiades, a old man in debt that enrolls his son in Socrates’ philosophy school so that they can win their debt case in court. While it has a serious theme, it is filled with sexual and bathroom humour and songs that are set to contemporary music. 

After deciding on “The Clouds,” Schwartau had to read even more translations of the play.

“We were going to cut and splice because this play is 2,500 years-old,” Schwartau said.

Her and Kim Hartshorn, PSUC theatre department chair and the play’s other director, came across a modern version from New Zealand that fit their ideas perfectly. All of the Greek god and geographic references were cut out, making it far shorter and easier to understand. This trimmed-down version pokes fun at higher education and all that it entails. 

“The man who adapted it is a professor at a college in New Zealand,” Schwartau said. “So he’s kind of making fun [of higher education].”

While there were a few challenges, the most notable one was this version did not have its own music, despite it being a musical.

“The script contained stanzas that said song but no music,” Schwartau said.

She first thought of writing original music but then decided to add the lyrics to popular songs that the audience would recognize. The setlist includes everything from nursery rhymes to classic rock.

“For people who do know the play, this version is so innovative,” Schwartau said.

Straying away from the original, the personified clouds in this version are information technology specialists with whom the characters converse with. Even though they are in ancient Greek times, Socrates, among other characters, are seen with devices and rely on “The Cloud.” 

Strepsiades’ character represents the older generation in this play. Brady Terry, who plays Strepsiades in the play, described him as “crazy” and “mildly dim-witted.” 

“Strepsiades is so much fun to play because he is just such an over the top version of myself,” Terry said. “I get to be crazy and wild without fear of ridicule, a theme that I have come to revel in with theater.”

Terry has been in theater for over 10 years, but this is his first leading role. 

“The toughest part was learning what that means because the pressure is on me to pace the play and keep the audience alive,” Terry said.

As for who will be in the audience, Samantha Morris, PSUC psychology major, attended last night’s opening night. 

“I’m excited to hear the music and see the costumes,” Morris said.

Morris has seen many theater performances ranging from school plays to Broadway.

“When you go to a Broadway play, you don’t really get to see people that you know that well, so it’s not as personal to you,” Morris said.

While Morris has not seen any Greek plays, she is looking forward to “The Clouds” being the very first.

“The Clouds” premiered yesterday and will continue tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission tickets are $9, and student tickets are $3, which can be purchased online at or at the information desk in the Angell College Center.

Terry said viewing a Greek play has a positive effect on the audience. 

“I think that it is important for people to see the play not only because of the historical importance but because of the feeling of relief that it can bring to people,” Terry said. “In a society where people [are] so worried about saying the wrong thing and what people think, it’s great to have a night where we can laugh and let go of those oppressive feelings.”  

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