In the original Phaedra legend, Theseus had a son Hippolytus from a previous marriage.When Theseus married Phaedra, they visited Hippolytus. Although Phaedra fell madly in love with Hippolytus, her feelings disgusted him.When he rejected Phaedra, she killed herself and left a note saying that Hippolytus had raped her. Theseus found the note and asked the god Poseidon for revenge on son. One day as Hippolytus was driving his chariot by the seashore, Poseidon sent a sea monster to frighten Hippolytus’s horses. The horses bolted, tangling Hippolytus in the reins and killing him.
Robert P. Arthur sets his contemporary retelling of this legend in a house by the sea. In a world of light, shadows, and the sound of the surf, the old passions are resurrected and revenged.
From the Play
Play Excerpt: Cast of Characters
Tony – A poet in his twenties
Jerry – Tony’s uncle
Phaedra – Tony’s stepmother, in her thirties
Nona – Phaedra’s middle-aged maid
Alisha – Tony’s fiancé
Teddy – Tony’s father and Phaedra’s husband
Tony’s mother – A voice from the shadows
Fishwives – Figures in shadows
Setting: A second story room with a window overlooking the night sea. The set is not realistic, possibly employing columns and a blue marble floor. A fire is burning in a suggestion of a fireplace. The type of room is unspecified and is furnished by only a chair, a very small desk, and a full-length mirror.
Tony: How tempestuous it is!
Wave upon wave of agitation
It must be Phaedra
Jerry: Let’s both hope not
You’ve poetry to write
And I’ve these figures
Tony: My father brought her from over that rippling shadow, Uncle
From that savage place…in a primal dark
Listen, Uncle, to the bellowing of Poseidon’s bull
Will Phaedra come up here?
The sea snorts and storms, tosses it head
in the cape work of wind
Jerry Bad dreams again?
Tony: (Mutters, composing, testing the words as hecomposes a poem)
It’s one o’clock
Darkness seeps into muscle and bone
The wiild sea surges in paddocks of rock
Jerry: You are disturbed, Tony
by your stepmother’s walks?
Tony: Night after night
She is predatory, Uncle
Have you seen how she looks at me? Eyes boring, black as death, and grave?
Jerry: She longs for her own country
Left alone here, in the compound
With you and me and her lying nursemaid, a terrible woman
Tony: Often, Phaedra pauses beneath this
What does she mean by it?
Jerry: How should I know?
I’m a bachelor,
And do your father’s books
Tony: Sometimes I dream of my father
And Phaedra in their bedroom by the sea
in failing light
She combing and braiding her long black hair
(Tony shuts eyes)