Award-winning actors present a live dramatic reading of Aeschylus’ play
The University of Notre Dame partnered with Theater of War Productions to bring The Suppliants Project: Ukraine to Notre Dame Stadium last Monday night, as part of the 2022-2023 Notre Dame Forum: War and Peace.
According to ND Forum, the dramatic reading of Greek playwright Aeschylus’ 2500-year-old text was attended by more than 700 people online and in person.
A presidential initiative of Fr. John Jenkins held annually since 2005, ND Forum is dedicated to fostering “campus-wide dialogue about issues of importance to the University, the nation and the larger world.” In his introduction of this year’s theme, “War and Peace,” Fr. Jenkins noted the United Nations’ projections of rising global conflict, warning “that peace is more under threat around the world than it has been since World War II.”
“The Suppliants Project: Ukraine” is an initiative of Theater of War Productions, which uses live readings of seminal plays to highlight global issues, like immigration and the refugee crisis, and to promote discussion at both global and local levels.
The Suppliants tells the story of a group of women who flee arranged marriages in their conquered homeland to seek refuge in the city of Argos. Accompanying them is their father, Danaus, who negotiates with the King of Argos for asylum. Their pursuers are not far behind.
The dramatic reading featured live performances from award-winning actors Keith David (Get Out) and Anthony Edwards (Top Gun), as well as Tate Donovan (Hercules). The chorus of suppliant women was played by Ukrainian exchange students.
The live reading of the tragedy set the stage for a discussion of its applicability to current challenges facing immigrants and refugees, especially in Ukraine. Facilitated by Theater of War Productions director and translator Bryan Doerries, panelists from the Notre Dame community shared their personal experiences with war and the tragedy of being forced to leave one’s home.
One anonymous student expressed to the Rover her “dissatisfaction” at the play’s abrupt ending. The Argives voted to allow the daughters of Danaus to stay in their city; Danaus reports the news to the chorus without much indication of struggle. “It seemed like all of the citizens [of Argos] immediately said yes,” the student said.
Another anonymous student told the Rover that while she also predicted more challenges for the Danaids after being accepted into the city, she found the performance incredibly moving, especially the chorus of Ukrainian women: “I [enjoy] other plays by Aeschylus, and my ethics professor recommended it.” Adding, “I loved listening to the Ukrainian students.”
In an interview with the Rover, panelist Hasena Begic recounted her flight from Bosnia after the Bosnian War. She described the questioning of the Daughters of Danaus as an abbreviated version of her own application for a refugee visa.
“When they say, ‘We are not criminals,’ it got me,” Begic said, quoting the play, “Leaving your house, leaving your family, trying to escape—it is hard.”
She continued, “When you are looking for somebody to help you, and when that person says, ‘I can’t trust you, who are you?’—which is normal for them to ask … it’s okay, but it still kind of gets you.”
Begic works for Building Services at Notre Dame and connects with students regularly. She encouraged gratitude, saying, “If they think about what they have, more than what they don’t have, it might be easier for them.”
Begic hopes the university will host more events highlighting the struggles faced by immigrants and refugees in order to help more young people realize that “they are the ones who can change [the world] … Think how lucky we are … and be thankful that we are alive.”
ND Forum has partnered with Theater of War Productions in the past, last year through a virtual production of The Oedipus Project. Previous ND Forums include Sustainability (2021-22), Vatican II (2015-16), and Women in Leadership (2014-15). Future ND Forum events will include the Justice Sown in Peace Conference, which will celebrate 60 years since the encyclical Pacem in Terris.
Lucy Florenzo is a sophomore from Alexandria, Virginia studying architecture. When she is not in studio, she can be found hiking and camping in the Shenandoah. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credit: The Danaïdes by John Williams Waterhouse