Works | Pentheselia
Design // Photography // Theater Production
Shortly after my arrival in New York City, my collaborators and I secured a spot at the 1994 New York Fringe Festival for our production of Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea. A tragedy about the mythological queen, Penthesilea: the Amazons, a fierce race of female warriors, have a sacred tradition: they can marry only those warriors whom they have defeated in battle. It was rejected at the time as "unplayable" and acclaimed poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described it as a "ridiculous exploration of sexual frenzy." Our production centered on the nature of gender expectations and the fierceness of love.
The drama opens on the battlefield before the gates of Troy, where the Greeks are besieging the city and are interrupted by belligerent Amazons who attack and endanger the Greek princes. At a parley, the Amazon queen Penthesilea and the Greek prince Achilles come face-to-face and fall in love; from now on she will devote all her energy to overcoming Achilles in battle so that she may win him as her husband. The Greeks do not understand why the Amazons refuse to form an alliance or, when battle is resumed, why Penthesilea so single-mindedly pursues Achilles.
The Greeks learn that Penthesilea has captured their hero Achilles. The messenger describes of the Amazons' surprise attack. They surrounded Achilles, who first freed himself and tried to flee until his horses and his cart collapsed. Penthesilea and her followers drew closer, but when the queen's chariot overturned he escaped. Achilles, realising that he must be conquered by Penthesilea, sends her (via a herald) a challenge to single combat, and goes unarmed to meet her. Penthesilea, however, in a characteristically Kleistian misunderstanding of Achilles' intentions, believes that she has been scorned. Mad with fury she transfixes him with an arrow and sets her hunting dogs on him. She then tears his body apart, with hands and teeth.
Which became the center of our marketing campaign. Our Amazon Queen Meg Araneo, embodied up that moment for our camera, to capture the psychosexual moment of lust and rage.