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What can Sophocles teach today's wounded heroes?

Can words written by a Greek playwright 2500 years ago during a lifetime that spanned from the savagely fought Persian Wars to the horrific Peloponnesian War shed any light on the circumstances facing today's American soldiers returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan?

At first one is tempted to say no, the art of war has changed immeasurably since the era of the Greek heroes, as has over a hundred generations of killing technology.  But the longer one reflects on these changes, the clearer it becomes that some aspects of war have hardly changed at all.  What are today's Predator Drone aircraft or roadside improvised explosive devices with their controllers ensconced in remote locations but real world 21st century versions of the elliptical plot device referred to by Aristotle as the "apò mēkhanḗs theós," or what the Roman poet Horace later dubbed "deus ex machina,"--what we today might call the "god in the machine."
Young men and women--most of whom serve out of a sense of honor and duty rather than a specific ideological commitment--are still horribly damaged and disfigured, often in close firefights and sometimes even hand to hand combat.  And even if they survive relatively unscarred physically, many return behaviorally and psychologically damaged in ways that may not at first be apparent: ways we have come to associate with the term "post-traumatic stress disorder."  No one who enters into a combat zone comes out completely unchanged; the horror of war and its memories haunts some men and women for a lifetime.
According to New York City based writer, translator, and director Bryan Doerries, sharing the experiences of warriors from classically antiquity with the soldiers of today can not only bring keen insights into the existential situation of the warrior, it can also facilitate open discussion of deep rooted anxieties and fears soldiers are often conditioned to suppress while on the battlefield as a survival mechanism.
Since 2005, Doerries--a University of California at Irvine trained classicist and scholar--with a particular interest in the work of Sophocles, has headed what he calls the " Philoctetes Project," which is also known within the military and its various support organizations as Theater of War Productions, LLC

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Thursday theater roundup: Memorial Day weekend edition

Time again for ArtsBeat's theater roundup, our weekly suggestion of the best shows playing in and around Western New York.


The cast of "The Exonerated," which runs through June 13 in Ujima Theatre's TheatreLoft.

"The Exonerated" through June 13 in TheatreLoft, in a production by Ujima Theatre. From the review: "As strong an indictment of the American criminal justice system as has ever been produced for the stage... Ujima and director Lorna C. Hill are to be applauded for honoring this gravely important topic with a production that simply sings." --Colin Dabkowski

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Armantrout's "Cheshire Poetics" on NPR's "On Point"

One of the more felicitous consequences of Rae Armantrout's Versed (Wesleyan University Press) receiving the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry is the delayed "victory tour" of the major media outlets that Ms. Armantrout has been on since the end of the semester and her teaching responsibilities at the University of California, San Diego.
Not all of the discussions of contemporary poetry in the popular media are illuminating: some contribute to the marginalization of poetry and such persistent cultural mythologies as the misconception that poets hibernate eleven months a year and then emerge from their burrows (or if they live in New York City, their boroughs) every April for National Poetry Month.  Armantrout, however, is a singularly generous and thoughtful interview guest who articulates a much more innovative, and in many senses "radical," approach to poetics and writing in general than is generally presented in the mainstream media. 
On Thursday, she appeared on the second hour of National Public Radio Show On Point with Tom Ashbrook, where she read from her work, talked about the bi-coastal origins of "language writing," writing and gender, and some of the influences and thought processes that inform the formal developments in her work.  It's worth a listen, particularly if you are looking for a straightforward discussion of the "inherently political" project of language-centered writing with respect to "post-confessional" poetries and the public discourse of our media culture.

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Albright-Knox announces joint acquisition with Tate Modern

Albright knox

If you've visited the Albright-Knox Art Gallery any time since January, you may have seen a curious stack of papers sitting on the gallery floor. You may, if you were there at the right time, have glimpsed someone actually removing a sheet from the stack -- thus bucking that age-old museum rule about patrons keeping their hands off the art. But what you may not have known is that the Albright-Knox acquired this untitled piece by Félix González-Torres with the help of the London's Tate gallery.

After the final details of the deal were put through, the folks at the Albright-Knox got the OK today to name the institution with whom they shared the costs of the work. (I reported on the acquisition, along with some other recent works purchased by the gallery, here.) This is the first joint acquisition the gallery has made with an overseas institution. Co-purchases, like Rachel Whiteread's gigantic inverted staircase (co-owned with Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art), are becoming more common in the museum world as budgets are stretched and competition with wealthy private collectors stiffens.

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Thursday Theater Roundup: May 20

Welcome, readers, to the third installment of the Thursday Theater Roundup, our weekly listing of our critics' picks for the best shows around Western New York's professional and semi-professional theaters.

Three actresses_Apr132010_B

Anne Roaldi (top), Sheila McCarthy and Eileen Dugan in Jewish Repertory Theatre's production of "Door to Door."

  • "From Door to Door" through June 6 in the Alleyway Theatre, in a production by the Jewish Repertory Theatre. From the review: "At times veering close to melodrama, or, as we call it in the old country, “shmaltz,” the play comes up balanced, and ultimately packs a rewarding emotional experience. It is satisfying not in its resolution of huge issues, but in the ongoing rhythms of life; the patterns that we encounter, maybe try to break, and frequently come full circle to inevitably embrace." --Jana Eisenberg

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Jeff Simon's Chat

Four million books "in the cloud"?

For all of the ongoing disruptions of the traditional publishing business model wrought by the advent of e-publishing, one thing appears to be certain: aside from the sales of competing e-reader devices, no one is making much money in this new brave new world yet.
Even as persistent questions arise about what the actual e-book "sales figures" associated with Amazon's Kindle are -- it turns out that up until last week Amazon's reported top 10 "best-selling" titles weren't "sales" at all, they were all "free" downloads -- and financially troubled Borders Books'  Kobo eReader platform and mobile app was introduced to an already oversaturated e-books marketplace, this month most industry observers are focused on the June launch of two more major players into the e-books market.
Sometime next month, the Taiwanese company MSI is scheduled to roll out the first version of the Slatebook, a 10-inch tablet computer with e-reader capabilities designed to run on Microsoft's Windows 7 software and compete directly with Apple's iPad at a highly competitive price, likely under $500.  Whether this device with its rather unusual partnership -- Hewitt Packard is reported to have abandoned development of an earlier version of the Slatebook -- captures a significant portion of the market, or ends up being what Microsoft's Zune was to Apple's iPod in the digital music player field remains to be seen.
Later in June or early July, we will see the launch of Google Editions, the long-awaited retail culmination of the Google Books project and the seeming "holy grail" of electronic publishing -- access to a vast, searchable library of millions of books -- the current number reported scanned is over 4 million -- available for reading on a variety of platforms. In a way, all the controversy surrounding the Google Books Settlement has raised expectations for this debut to the point where it has come to represent the likely paradigm for electronic publishing for the foreseeable future.

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Jeff Simon chats at 4 p.m. today

Talk movies, music, books or anything else in the world of arts and entertainment during a live chat with News Arts Editor Jeff Simon right here at 4 p.m. today.

For Lena and Lennie, a jazz tribute like few others

Jazz musicians tend to like each other. Sometimes, they actually love each other.

And when they do, the music they leave behind is magnificent. Listen to Duke Ellington's Orchestra play Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count" --written by Ellington's alter ego as he got his blood checked during the disease that took him--for one example. Or Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford" for another example.

Unfortunately, one of the most beautiful jazz tributes to friends I've ever heard isn't avaiilable on CD yet. The tune is Quincy Jones' gorgeous tribute to his friends Lena Horne and her arranger husband Lennie Hayton simply called "For Lena and Lennie." It's very much available on any number of great jazz CD's including Jones' own collection called "Quintessence."

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The Thursday theater roundup

It's time again for the weekly theater roundup. Some shows are opening tonight and over the weekend, so forgive us if this week's recommendations give you a bit of déjà vu.

Off we go:

  • "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" through May 22 in the Road Less Traveled Theatre. From the review: " 'The Goat' is Albee at the top of his game. Every bit of dialogue is imbued with multiple levels of meaning, which mirror the playwright’s desire to build up a sense of bourgeois decorum on-stage only to shatter it with a sledgehammer. Hence his characters’ interest in maintaining precise language (a la 'Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?') amid unimaginable emotional chaos, which provides incredible moments of contrast for actors to sink their teeth into." --Colin Dabkowski
  • "Lettice and Lovage" through May 30 in the Kavinoky Theatre. From the review: "Doyennes Anne Gayley and Rosalind Cramer, in reprise. What could be better? British playwright Peter Shaffer’s 'Lettice and Lovage,' one of his rare comedies — but one filled with his customary themes of denial, fantasy and aspiration—has returned to the Kavinoky Theatre after a nearly 20-year hiatus, bringing with it acting icons Gayley and Cramer, the long-ago stars of the first production: the impeccable Gayley as sweetly eccentric Lettice Douffet and the relentlessly precise Cramer as grumpy Lotte Schoen." --Ted Hadley

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