“The Argument”
Monday, October 27, 7:30 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre,
Michigan League

Aristotle will take the stage tonight at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, decked out in modern dress instead of his trademark toga. He’ll be delivering a passionate lecture on his “Poetics,” an influential meditation on the nature of poetry, theatre and tragedy.

The real Aristotle may be long gone, but this might be the next best thing. In the one-man production of “The Argument,” David Greenspan stars as the great thinker from ancient Greece. Greenspan’s Aristotle stands alone on stage, revitalizing timeworn texts with a touch of whimsy and without the help of a set or props. The play is a fusion of Aristotle’s “Poetics,” the writings of classics scholar Gerald F. Else, and a little input from the solo actor and playwright himself.

“I put this in a drawer thinking nobody’s going to be interested in this piece. I’d written it out of my own interest and done a reading here and there, but I thought, this is not going to play,” Greenspan said.

But “The Argument,” directed by David Herskovitz, is a winner of an OBIE (Off-Broadway Theater Award), and has been extremely well received by New York critics. The New York Times called Greenspan the “classics professor of a bored college student’s dreams.”

Lasting a little over 40 minutes, the play is almost a dense lecture on the “Poetics,” but in combination with Greenspan’s charm, movement and a little backstory, the show becomes less like a lecture and more like theatre.

“Part of the idea behind it is that a lecture is by its nature performative. It’s a bit of a performance already,” Greenspan said.

“Poetics,” and by extension, “The Argument,” is partly a story of a student responding to his teacher. At the heart of “The Argument” is Aristotle’s refutation of Plato’s attack on poetry in “The Republic.”

“The drama and the theatre comes from this personal relationship as well as the theatrical analysis,” Greenspan said.

In a somewhat metatheatrical way, “The Argument” brings to life a work about the nature of drama itself, the influence of which extends to today’s stage and also to TV and film.

“The principles of screen-writing, for instance, actually go right back to Aristotle’s ‘Poetics,’ ” LSA Greek and Latin Prof. Ruth Scodel said. “Anybody in the theatre, even if they’ve never read the ‘Poetics,’ they know the ‘Poetics’ without knowing that they know it.”

“The Argument” is coming to Michigan to celebrate Prof. Gerald F. Else’s 100th birthday, who spent most of his academic career at the University and served as chair of the Department of Classical Studies. Greenspan worked from Else’s translation of “Poetics,” and the title of the production comes from Else’s famous analysis, “Aristotle’s Poetics: The Argument,” a meticulous commentary on Aristotle’s difficult opus.

“We’re thinking of this as the Classics Department gives a little present to the whole community,” said Scodel, the current Chair of the Department of Classical Studies. “It’s something really interesting and different and free. What’s not to like?”

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