In Euripides’ play, the Phoenecian women represent the innocent who are displaced and otherwise impacted by conflict. (photo from Arts Umbrella)
Some families are, quite literally, cursed. In Euripides’ The Phoenician Women, it is brothers Eteocles and Polyneices who are condemned to fight each other to their tragic end, but they are not the only ones harmed by the curse. During their conflict, the chorus, aka the Phoenician women, are trapped in Thebes.
The brothers’ father, Oedipus, had been sent away from his parents when he was a baby, in an effort to avoid the fulfilment of the dreadful prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. However, fate cannot be so easily avoided, and Oedipus unwittingly does end up marrying his mother after unknowingly killing his father. Four children later, Oedipus discovers the truth, gouges his eyes out and leaves his kingdom (Thebes) to his sons – but he also curses them for their treatment of him, pledging they would have to “draw the sword before they share this house between them.” As did their father before them, the sons try to escape their fate, but, well, that never seems to work out.
“In The Phoenician Women, I play the role of Eteocles, one of the sons (and, technically, half-brother) of Oedipus, who exiles his other brother in order to hold onto the throne,” actor Naomi Levy told the Independent. Levy is in the Arts Umbrella Senior Theatre Troupe, which is presenting The Phoenician Women as part of the Expressions Theatre Festival at the Waterfront Theatre. Two performances remain: May 19, 9 p.m., and May 24, 7 p.m.
“What I love about my character,” said Levy, “is, at first, it seems Eteocles has exiled his brother to satisfy his own lust for power; however, upon further inspection, it seems Eteocles has done this in order to protect the city of Thebes, which he rules. He knows Polyneices, his brother, is not fit to be a king.
“The Phoenician Women is such a relevant commentary on displaced people, as well as a timeless tale of greed, protection, loss and grief. It’s an incredibly beautiful story, and I am so grateful to be a part of telling it.”
To pay homage to the play’s roots in ancient Greece, Levy said, “we are performing in mask, which is such an unique experience. The masks allow me to explore parts of myself and my character I may not have been able to without it – while the mask hides my face, it also forces me to articulate my character through my entire body and explore his unique movements.”
Levy was born in Vancouver, and has lived here all her life except for one year, when she lived in the United Kingdom. She is currently in Grade 12 at West Point Grey Academy.
“I was raised a secular Jew,” she said. “It was important to my parents that I be raised Jewish, which is one of the reasons I was given my mom’s last name, Levy. I went to Peretz community centre from a young age, and [was part of] a b’nai mitzvah there, where I did a project on Jewish stereotypes.”
She said, “Though I am not personally religious, I find that both the cultural and religious parts of Judaism are important in my life. It’s always so incredible to meet a fellow Jew, as there is this automatic connection that is derived from shared culture and experience.”
Ever since she was a young kid, Levy has loved performing. “It was my brother who initially introduced me to acting, when he participated in a Bard on the Beach summer camp, and him again who introduced me to the Arts Umbrella theatre troupe of which I am now a part. I was so jealous that he was able to perform and I wanted to be like him. I was instantly transfixed by theatre and performing.
“I have also been heavily involved in choir and musical theatre since I was young,” she said. “I have attended several years of Bard on the Beach summer camps, performed with Encore Musical Theatre, acted in my school’s plays, sung in my school’s choir and, most recently, participated in the Senior Theatre Troupe at Arts Umbrella. This troupe specifically shows me the beautiful intricacies of acting and pushes me as a performer, which I love.”
Arts Umbrella’s Senior Theatre Troupe is a yearlong program for students between 15 and 19 years old, who are selected by audition. According to Arts Umbrella’s website, successful candidates rehearse twice a week every week from September to June, exploring “professionally developed theatrical works, from the classic to contemporary.” Among other things, the troupe tours the works to secondary schools and performs at the Expressions festival.
“Music and theatre in my mind are similar, and they are the two passions of mine, which make me so incredibly happy,” said Levy. “For a long time, I had told myself that, even though acting makes me happier than anything else has in my life, I was going to explore my other academic interests. I am passionate about gender and sexuality studies and its activism, as well as the humanities, and would love to be a social worker. I had originally thought that would be the path I would follow. It still may be, as I can’t say what the future will hold, but, for the time being, I am following what I love to do most, which is acting, music and performing, and hope to make a career out of it.”
In an effort to make that happen, Levy will soon head to Montreal.
“I am very excited to be going to Concordia University next year in the theatre program with a specialization in acting,” she said, adding that she also will explore her other academic passions, as well. At the least, she is aiming for a master’s degree.
Expressions Theatre Festival runs until May 26. For tickets and information on all five productions being presented by different Arts Umbrella troupes, visit artsumbrella.com/events/expressionstheatre.