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Euripides’ Ion

Reality TV’s True Inspiration

Like all the best (or perhaps worst) episodes of Jerry Springer, Euripides’ Ion has it all: a mother forced to abandon her child, questionable paternity, attempted murder, and funny glasses. The ancient Greeks truly did form the foundation of Western society. Boxcar Theatre’s production of Ion pares down the original story for the sake of an outdoor production, but maintains the utterly dysfunctional family dynamic loved by audiences everywhere.

Euripides’ Ion tells the story of young Ion, a servant boy at the Temple of Apollo who, abandoned as a newborn, was raised by the high priestess of Apollo (the Pythia). Little did he know that he was the unfortunate product of rape -- the god Apollo long ago had had his way with the hapless mortal woman Kreousa, who was then forced to abandon the newly born Ion. Years later, Kreousa and her new husband Xouthos, their marriage childless, return to Delphi seeking an oracle. Against all expectations (and contrary to the truth), the oracle reveals that Ion is the son of…Xouthos. Kreousa, angry and jealous (and still not knowing Ion is really her son), plots Ion’s death with the help of her trusty old servant. Ultimately, her plot is foiled, Ion’s true parentage is revealed, and, oddly, everyone is satisfied.

This is a typical storyline for Greek tragic drama, with the Euripidean addition of fallible gods (Aeschylus and Sophocles, two other playwrights of the time, were much more pious), and while the story of Euripides’ original play has been cut down to a forty-minute performance, Boxcar Theater does a great job of maintaining the general themes of the story despite the use of minimal props and only three actors. The raw emotion of the storyline is delivered wonderfully with some humor thrown in to provide relief for the audience that underscores rather than waters down the emotional import.

Using parks and fountains across San Francisco as their stage, the actors carry on their backs the tools required to bring forth an ultimately complex and highly emotional plot in an interesting way, spreading only a sheet to create the line between fantasy and reality. The three actors (Peter Matthews, Stephanie Maysonave, and Sarah Savage) not only play all seven characters in the play, but they each play all of the characters at one point or another. And they don’t just switch when the scene changes; they actually change characters in the middle of delivering lines.

While this may sound confusing, it is actually quite intriguing and very well done, requiring each actor to not only assume the props of the particular character, but also the body language, mannerisms, and speech patterns as the two actors overlap lines to make the switch smoothly. The props are minimal but distinct (as are the mannerisms and body language), clearly denoting each different character. My personal favorite is the pair of Mr. Magoo glasses that indicate the character of Kreousa’s slave and accomplice in the attempted murder of her son. A tip to help allay confusion: watch the props, not the actors, to know which character it is.

The only downside (which is also a major upside) to the production is the fact that it is outside. San Francisco at this time of year is absolutely dazzling and the current weather is glorious. So, sitting outside for a performance is a wonderful springtime treat before the winter of San Francisco summer sets in. However, we no longer have the advantage of carefully crafted acoustics and strategic seating arrangements relative to the stage, making it sometimes difficult to hear the actors when they are not speaking directly at the audience. And yet, the sunshine more than makes up for it.

If you are looking for an enjoyable way to both take in the weather and brush up on your classics, Boxcar Theater’s production of Euripides’ Ion is the perfect opportunity.


Saturday, May 16th – Northern San Francisco
1:00pm – West Bluff Amphitheatre at the Western end of Crissy Field near Fort Point
2:30pm – Fort Mason Park near the Rose Garden
4:00pm – Aquatic Park near the Maritime Museum on Beach Street

Saturday, May 23rd – Central San Francisco
1:00pm – Golden Gate Park in front of the Conservatory of Flowers
2:30pm – Civic Center Park on the east side of City Hall
4:00pm – Dolores Park at the shrine (near 19th Street and Church)

Tickets: FREE