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The Play That Got Away

Robert Whitlatch, Seeley Distinguished Professor Emeritus of TheatreDoc Bob, otherwise known as Seeley Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre Robert Whitlatch, exited Knox's theatre department in August 2008, retiring after 42 years of service to the College. During that time, he directed, designed, or acted in more than 50 plays. Yet during his tenure at Knox, there is one play he never got around to directing -- Euripedes' Electra.

Not just the standard version of Euripedes' classic play, which explores the ramifications of the Trojan War within the family of King Agamemnon of Greece. Doc Bob envisions Electra taking place in a setting familiar to all of us in the Knox community -- a Midwestern farm.

Knox Magazine sat down with Doc Bob to discuss the one play he wished he would have directed at Knox, and here's what he had to say:

The Play
"It was back in the 1960s when the idea first hit me. When I was driving around Illinois, I noticed a lot of small towns where there would be maybe one little store left, but it was also boarded up. It was a decaying of the Midwest. I coupled that idea with visions of some farmland in Ohio, which was rocky and hilly and not productive. I thought that's where Electra takes place.

"What hit me the most about the play was the fact that Euripedes takes a legend and turns it on its head. In other words, the villains come out as kind of nice or understandable people, and the heroes much less than heroic. Euripedes presents a rather cynical view of the world, and it just hit me that the farmland out at the edge of the world, where the world is deteriorating and the little businesses of the past have gone out of existence, seemed to match his vision."

The Setting
"This is a contemporary Midwest farm setting. I have the set in my mind -- a barren hillside sloping down to this not too fertile area. Up on top of the hill, I'd have a windmill. Then I would build the crudest of little shacks -- maybe I'd do it out of logs or plain clapboard siding. If I had my druthers, I'd have Electra's mother, Clymenestra, arrive in a Cadillac, dressed in whatever the latest fashion would be. And I see the chorus as neighbor ladies."

The Play that Got Away
"Doing this play got to be a joke between Ivan Davidson (professor emeritus of theatre) and me. He would ask me what play I'd want to do next year, and I would say Euripedes, Electra in a Midwest setting. He would always say 'what do you really want to do,' and we'd move on. Having never done it, I let it drift. But it's still in the back of my mind. Maybe Liz (Carlin-Metz, professor of theatre) or Neil (Blackadder, associate professor of theatre) will perform it someday."

Read more about Doc Bob's career at Knox.