I first read and learned about Socrates during my second semester at college. I loved my philosophy course and enjoyed Plato's writings about Socrates. My professor asked us if Plato was actually Socrates and if the book was autobiographical. He actually thought it was, although history has proved this to be a wrong assessment.
Socrates was a deep thinker, and Socrates, the show is deep, very deep. Like my college course, you must stay focused on what is said and listening intently is a must. Fortunately, the close to three hours goes by quickly with superb acting and excellent directing.
At the Public Theater, you always get a first rate production. You may not like every production there, but the five theaters always put on intense, deep thought out plays. The Public continues the vision of its founder Joe Papp, and continues to grind out artistic driven plays.
Socrates is about the man of the play's namesake. He was a person like Jesus who questioned not only authority but asked his followers to question themselves. Whenever anyone questioned him, Socrates had very deep insightful answers. Toward the end of his life, he was almost messiah-like. Young people began to question their parents and authority in general.
What began Socrates downfall was two fold: the breaking of the Herrs by his followers and his immense, controversial followers. Socrates questioned many of the Athenian leaders, many of whom either ended the conversation with screaming at him or hitting him. This lead to a great divide in Athens. People either loved him or hated him and there was no in between. Seen as arrogant, abrasive and dismissive by not only his enemies but also by his followers.
While many people tied this show into American politics, or even world politics of today, I found that Socrates had more in common with Ghandi, Mandela, cult like figures in Charles Manson and Jimmy Jones. I even think Socrates had a following like Timothy Leary and many of the 60s figures. He pitted his followers against the authoritarian leaders.
With a simple set to go with a simple man, Scott Pask did a magnificent job. The back opened occasionally at various times to drive important messages during the performance. We saw the debauchery in one scene, which showed the hypocrisy of Athenian leaders, we saw the torturing during another. Well contrived, Pask was on the mark in giving us the simple as well as the shocking.
Tyler Micoleau also gave this play a cryptic feel, a nourish, somber feel. Mostly in the romantic lighting in the entire play, it added to the central theme and brought the actors front and center. A driving backbeat to a serious play with serious subject matter, Micoleau had the pulse of this dynamic play.
Catherine Zuber's costumes gave us a true feel of what was worn in the days of Socrates. Flowing robes with sharp design, Zuber brought us closer to the ancient world. Most of the Ensemble cast were understated to bring forth the significance of truth vs everything else. The simple garb let the audience focus on the words being spoken and the thoughts of the young philosophers.
While all the cast were great, Michael Stuhlbarg and Teagle F. Bougere were standouts. As Socrates and Plato, the two commanded the stage. With both humor and style, they were the central focus and interacted as if they have been together all their lives. They bantered about with each other, challenging each other which can be credited to the solid direction of Doug Hughes. With a multitude of actors and the different roles they played, Hughes gave us clear insight to each and every role. Never once was the audience confused, which is not easy with such a deep, difficult play as Socrates.