By the Bog of Cats

By the Bog of Cats Inspired by Greek Tragedy

Marina Carr is known for adapting or riffing on classical works and source material. By the Bog of Cats is loosely based on the myth of Medea, in which a much-reviled woman murders her children. While there are few direct references to this inspiration, subtle signs point to the reference material, such as the blind prophet and the eventual filicide at the end of the play. As Greek drama is often looked to as the origin of contemporary theater as we know it, many playwrights have looked to the Greeks for inspiration.

While many theater directors and producers have worked to adapt ancient texts in ways that contemporize the stories for modern audiences, there are also playwrights, like Carr, who use the ancient narratives as jumping-off points for their own writing. A Particle of Dread is American playwright Sam Shepard's take on the story of Oedipus Rex. Charles Mee has made a career of adapting ancient plays for contemporary audiences, with tragedies like Agamemnon 2.0, The Bacchae 2.1, Full Circle, The Investigation, True Love, and Requiem for the Dead. The New York theater company LaMama produced a reinterpretation of The Trojan Women in 1974, conceived and directed by Andrei Serban and Elizabeth Swados, which has been revived as part of The Trojan Women Project Festival, which in 2019 celebrated the 45th anniversary of the original production and five years of an outreach program bringing the production to Kosovo, Cambodia, and Guatemala.

There is something about Greek tragedy that is especially evocative to people. Perhaps it is its emotional intensity, its familial resonances, and its extremely high stakes that make it continuously fascinating to audiences. Anne Carson, a Canadian poet and essayist who has spent much of her career translating Greek tragedy, says in the foreword to her book Grief Lesson: Four Plays by Euripides, "Grief and rage—you need to contain that, to put a frame around it, where it can play itself out without you or your kin having to die. There is a theory that watching unbearable stories about other people lost in grief and rage is good for you—may cleanse you of your darkness. Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone? Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn't that why they are called actors? They act for you. You sacrifice them to action. And this sacrifice is a mode of deepest intimacy of you with your own life. Within it you watch [yourself] act out the present or possible organization of your nature. You can be aware of your own awareness of this nature as you never are at the moment of experience. The actor, by reiterating you, sacrifices a moment of his own life in order to give you a story of yours.”