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Socrates On Trial PhotoFrom May 31st until June 7th, The Vital Spark Theatre Company presented the play Socrates On Trial at the Telus Theatre, Chan Centre For The Performing Arts, in Vancouver, Canada. This outstanding production was adapted and produced by University of British Columbia professor Andrew Irvine, and directed superbly by Joan Bryans. Although both James Gill, as Strepsiades and Dave Campbell in his role as Socrates (Act I only), put in solid performances during the opening act, it was the strong supporting cast that turned a satirical, urban meets Hellenistic performance into a mind blowing, portrayal of debauchery and irreverence. 

While the history books may revere Socrates as a teacher and philosopher, Socrates On Trial, which was presented in the round, and based on the classic Greek works, Clouds, by Aristophanes, Plato’s monologue Apology and his dialogues Crito and Phaedo, certainly paint a different picture of the Athenian. Act I opens outside the city of Athens, near a building bearing the sign, ‘The School of Thinkology.’ Officially the program lists Townsfolk, Students and Doorkeepers, but on this evening, all of the players appeared equally corrupt and, shall we say, sexually inspired. In particular, Meg Brock, cast as one of the Doorkeepers, played the role of the conniving vixen with great aplomb. Had I known there were going to be rapping Athenians in this production, I may have thought twice about taking in this play however, I am glad that I did not know that in advance, because the cast carried this off in fine style. It is difficult to explain how Irvine and Bryans took two completely different cultures and made it work, but they did.

In Act I Socrates is presented to us as a pompous, arrogant and often petulant individual, who ridicules the notion of the Greek gods, something that would later contribute to his downfall. Socrates makes short work of James Gill’s character Strepsiades, reducing him to a reasonable facsimile of the two brothers Darryl, who appeared on the old Bob Newhart television show.

What I found particularly invaluable throughout this production, were the two prologues delivered by Steve Baumber. He allowed theatergoers to understand the historical context of the Acts that would follow, as well as helped us to appreciate the social, political and cultural influences that prevailed throughout Socrates’ lifetime.

While the first act was bizarre and certainly not what one would have expected, during a play portraying Socrates’ life, the second and third Acts were classical, and filled with the type of arguments, debates and philosophical meanderings that you would fully expect to encounter in a production of this nature. Act II is set twenty-five years after the first performance of Aristophanes’ Clouds. We find Socrates now facing trial, on the charge that he has corrupted the young. Socrates is accused of convincing the youth that there were no Greek gods, which his accusers contend contributed to their loss to the Spartans, during the Peloponnesian War.

How plead you, Socrates? Enter Paul Toolan as an older Socrates, who with all due respect, to his counterpart Dave Campbell from Act I, Toolan put in a brilliant performance. It takes an extremely gifted actor to hold an audience’s attention, for any more than two or three minutes during a monologue, but for the most part the entire second act consisted of Socrates speech to his accusers Meletus (Daryl Hutchings), Anytus (Amanda Konkin) and Lykon (Steve Baumber). The key to Toolan’s monologue is he made the speech his own.  He became Socrates, and for the moments that his character filled the stage, you believed that he was indeed Socrates. When Socrates turns Meletus’ own arguments against him, you are cheering for Socrates, and you would have been, even if it were not for the cue cards that appeared in the nether regions of the theater. Yes, the audience was encouraged to participate. Not since my days in Edmonton’s Walterdale Theatre, during their Klondike Days’ productions, had I witnessed an audience so eager to become involved in the action. 

It should be noted that Hutchings and Konkin appear throughout the play, cast in other supporting roles, and put in fabulous performances.

Once judgment is passed on Socrates, he begins a new debate, regarding what should be considered a fair sentence, and at one point, he puts forth the preposterous proposal that he should receive all of his meals for free.  

The most emotionally charged scenes in Socrates On Trial, occurred in his cell, while he was waiting for the executioner.  The conversations with his friends and his wife bore the marks of angst, anguish, frustration and grief.

Riveting Riffs Magazine says BRAVO, to the entire cast for a fine production. Now let’s hope that Andrew Irvine and Joan Bryan’s efforts are recognized, and they can turn this into a touring production. 

Photo by Doug Williams protected by copyright ©