HECTOR: A coed came lolloping into my office once, begging for an A, wearing a thin halter, no bra – and as she leaned forward, pleading her case, she lifted up her top and there they were – two dreamy melons bouncing for a grade – A and A plus, I called them – and just as I was about to help myself to the fruit bowl she arched her back and let out a tiny fart – the faintest of puffballs – and it was over. What if Paris had burst into Helen’s bedroom, took her in his arms, kissed her with ferocious passion, and in the excitement of the moment she let loose with a loud wet one? It would have saved thousands of lives and possibly changed the course of history.
THE STORY: Classics Professor Hector Alexander, erudite and brilliant, suddenly finds that his life resembles a Greek Tragedy turned somewhat on its farcical ear. His wife’s leaving him, his mistress is unsatisfied, his oldest daughter’s pregnant by a boy she despises, his mother’s pre-Alzheimer’s, his youngest daughter’s clairvoyant and seizure-prone, his therapist’s a drug addict, and the student who’s impregnated his daughter (and may also be having an affair with his wife and mother) is touching the professor’s heart in decidedly inappropriate ways. Ah, Love!
THE BACKSTORY: When I was a junior in college I took a course in the classics department on Greek and Roman Tragedy, taught by a professor who was described to me as “brilliant.” Unfortunately, during the semester I took his class, this professor seemed to be having a nervous breakdown. He would come into class and talk about anything but Greek and Roman tragedy – his home life (which may have been tragic enough), the obituaries in the morning’s paper (which he read to us one day in class), anything. (My greatest fear focussed on the final exam – I had no idea what he thought he had taught us.) The next semester the professor was retired to a desk job, but he stuck with me throughout the years until I sat down, some time after Agnes opened, and began writing his play.
I’ve spent over twenty years on this play – writing and re-writing and re-rewriting. The play came on fire for me in 1987, when I took a trip alone to Greece after the disastrous opening of Sleight of Hand. I needed a sabbatical. My wife said “Go away for as long as you want and don’t tell anyone where you’re going. Including me.” So I went to Athens and Delphi and the beautiful island of Santorini. I saw the most astonishing, breathing sculptures and whispered in Epidaurus. And out of that trip The Classics Professor was truly born.
It received a workshop at The Gathering At Bigfork, an extraordinary development situation that now, sadly, no longer exists. I had readings of it throughout the years, a college production of it in Mississippi, and finally a showcase production of it in New York in June of 2006. I played the professor.
It’s a play about love and loss and madness. It’s a modern adaptation of The Bacchae. It’s my first full-length comedy, a word I was afraid to use until my wife prodded me into tacking it onto the title page. Hector, I believe, is my most fullyrealized character to date, and his story I find hilarious, pathetic, and heart-breaking in equal measures. There were times in the writing when, as Hector himself observes, “the god possessed me.”