A mythical musical: QU’s theater department’s new show ‘Thebes’ is full of fun songs and stellar performances

Emily Flamme, Managing Editor

For a musical shrouded in death, “Thebes” was full of life and energy.

Quinnipiac University’s theater department put on “Thebes,” a new musical that is currently in “workshop.” There were four performances from March 4-6.

Emma Hathaway, Katie Hathaway and Solon Snider, the writers of “Thebes,” developed the show in May 2020. This is the first live production of the show and I can’t wait for it to enter bigger arenas.

I had no idea this show wasn’t fully developed until I read the playbill at the end. The show from the start was an explosion of fun and drew me in.

The show opens with Sphinx, played by Emily Eisengrein, a first-year 3+3 physical therapy major, belting out a song that helps set the scene, “Riddle Me This.” It was lively and upbeat, and not what I initially expected from a show about a Greek city.

The song explains Thebes is in total disarray. Members of the royal family are dying one by one and the city believes there is a curse on them. Eisengrein’s performance was backed by the rest of the cast dancing. I was immediately impressed by this show from the opening number. The vocals were strong and the dancing was good, which is sometimes hard to come by in live musicals.

Ismene, played by Samantha Hart, a junior film, television and media arts major, is the last of her family standing. The current king is Creon, Ismene’s uncle, played by Skye McCashion, a junior game design and development major. Ismene talks to her best friend Chrysippus, played by Haley Organ, a sophomore theater major, and says she never wants to rule Thebes.

Right off the bat, I loved that the casting was not gender-specific. I knew that the show would be good because the best person was fit for the roles. Chrysippus sang the next song. She sings about Zeus, played by Sam Sulz, a freshman communications major.

I loved how Zeus’ typical “macho” attitude in other shows and stories of the Greek gods wasn’t really present. He was instead snarky and aloof, which made for some hilarious moments. Zeus has a line where he says he wants to stop coming to Thebes because the ruler keeps dying and it’s inconveniencing him.

Following the second scene, the audience begins to understand that some of the characters are actually dead and they’re ghosts. Ismene’s sister Antigone, played by Theresa Cusson, a sophomore theater major, was the most recent death. There was a joke about how her death wasn’t a big deal because she was a ghost and she “hated living anyway.” I could tell that the show’s comedy was very modern and fit the unapologetic brand of humor Gen Z is known for. I mean, there’s a song later on where a line in the chorus is “We’re so fucking stupid.” That should tell you the tone of this show.

A bulk of the comedy was made up from the ghost characters: Antigone, Oedipus, played by Tobias Adams, a first-year sociology and social work double major, Jocasta, played by Kristen Daly, a junior psychology major, and Laius, played by Erica Pajonas, a senior psychology and theater double major.

The familial relationships, though based on Greek mythology, were funny in itself. Laius and Jocasta are married and have a son, Oedipus. Then, Oedipus and Jocasta had four children: Etocles, Polynices, Ismene and Antigone. There were several times throughout the show where there were jokes about how Oedipus was Jocasta’s son and husband. He would preface lines with something like “as your son and husband.”

After establishing that these characters are dead, it is revealed they travel from the underworld to perform the same songs every night at the bar Ismene owns. It is what they are required to do for all of eternity. It is supposedly a fair trade because they get to still be in the mortal world for a period of time and interact with Ismene, their only living relative. I found it hilarious that what they have to suffer through in order to still be in Thebes as a ghost was singing the same songs every night.

Once it is established that Ismene’s whole family is dead, it makes you wonder what happened to kill them all. Well, fear not, they brought out puppets to tell this story. Although it sounds like it should have totally lost the audience, I was fully in tune with the puppetry.

Ismene and Antigone each had a puppet representing their brothers. They sang a whole song, “Gods Save Our City,” role-playing their fight for the throne, which led to a war and to their respective demise. If you told me when I walked in that there was a whole song sung by puppets that are supposed to just be real people, I would have been nervous to see what that meant.

I am not sure if the puppets were used in place of actors and will not be part of the show in the future, but I think it should stay in the musical. Something about two male characters who die because of their own power struggle being portrayed through puppets made it so much more enjoyable. If two male actors did that scene, I don’t think I would have laughed.

Another character, Tiresias, played by Kayla Rose Jarry, a senior theater major in the elementary education program, has a solo where she talks about how she is a prophet and no one listens to her. Overcome with a prophecy, she said “While any crown holds any power, while any head holds any crown, tragedy will devastate this land until the end of times.” In other words, Thebes is doomed no matter what.

The rest of the show goes through the story of Creon’s death, making Ismene the ruler. She doesn’t want to be and has to decide what to do. Based on the prophecy, if she rules, she will die and Thebes will fall. If she leaves, Thebes will still fall and her family will be forced to stay in the underworld forever, but she won’t have to rule. Talk about easy decisions.

In between Ismene’s struggle with what to do, you find out Chrysippus and Laius are secretly dating. Yes, Chrysippus is in love with her best friend’s ghost grandfather. But wait, there’s more. Chrysippus is the one who cursed the royal family. She made a deal with Zeus and put the curse on Laius so anyone he loved would die. After that shocking revelation, Ismene leaves and Chrysippus takes the throne and is the ruler of Thebes.

Aside from the plot being fun and engaging, the performances were incredible from the whole cast. The whole cast had great comedic timing and excellent vocals. Organ was a stand-out for me, and whoever plays Chrysippus next definitely has big shoes to fill.

The crew also did a great job with the set, lighting and overall production. The set was simple, but I think it worked well because it allowed the cast to really shine. The lighting was done well. It had some great cues to show a certain person for either comedic timing or dramatic effect. The crew deserves recognition for creating a seamless show where I couldn’t tell it was still in workshop.

Overall, the music was amazing, and the plot was fantastic. I loved how the whole thing didn’t take itself seriously and was supposed to be funny. It’s just ridiculous enough without being corny. It’s what the ancient Greeks would have wanted.