Deeds of Vengeance: A Mystery

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But just as her stage for Mythos is built from dense layers of wooden boards - variously mirrored and bloodied and fractured, serving as marriage beds, ritual sites, sacrificial altars - the reasons for terrible actions in places like Israel are complex and manifold. She is interested in the larger picture that informs the complexity - the composition of societies and traditions that burden their citizens with a sense of vengeful duty. Living in Israel, hearing sounds that signal the deaths of soldiers, of suicide bombers, of stone-throwing children, she knows at first hand the destruction wrought by that sense of hereditary obligation at the heart of the Greek drama.

‘Vengeance’ served with style

And she does not simplify. Otherwise they don't go to kill or be killed. If you're there, and every second day some bomb is killing your children, I think you have to do something. It's not right or wrong, it's just do.

The belief behind Yerushalmi's vision in Mythos is that, as soon as there is action there are consequences. And as, in violent situations, the consequences - hatred, vengeance, death - are the same, the question of right and wrong becomes irrelevant. Although an action will always seem right to its protagonist, to someone else - or, as the Greeks had it, to some or other of the gods - it will inevitably cause offence.

It works like clockwork. Depressingly, Yerushalmi believes warfare may be a natural part of human existence, which is why, with Mythos, she scrapped the optimism of the Oresteia's final scene.

But we know now that there is no justice, so what's the point in repeating that ending? The last century has killed more than any other century before it - it never stops. So what," she laughs, "what optimistic note do you want to hear in the play?

Discussions about peace are all very well, she believes, but they change nothing. I was born in a war, and probably I will die and somewhere there will be some war. As long as human beings are the way they are, somebody will kill somebody for some reason. Try for one day when it stops, and if you get that one day I will be there, singing with you. Instead, she and her ensemble are singing about death, about duty and about the destruction it wreaks on young lives.

Ashen Band of Vengeance

Yet by all accounts their song lifts the heart; critics have raved about the stirring effect of Avi Balili's original music, merged, at crucial points in the drama, with everything from traditional drones and melismas to Beethoven sonatas and modern ballads. And above the heads of the strong cast another beautiful orchestra sounds its melodies: a projected image of the Milky Way, with its distant suns and its quickening meteors, with its infinite mystery that shrinks the drama of humanity to minuscule proportions, just as the power of the gods rendered insignificant the individual dilemmas of the ancient Greeks.

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And it's from that music, ultimately, that something like a note of hope will make itself heard in Mythos. It's in the perspective provided by the music of the spheres, the reminder that no matter how desperately important a belief or an ideology may seem, in the larger scheme of things it really doesn't matter.

And so, in Electra's final plea to the gods to have mercy, to pity all those who have died and will die, she is sounding Yerushalmi's plea, too: stop inflicting on the young the fatal obligation to kill. Yerushalmi accepts that people will harm one another as long as there is some reason; what she doesn't accept is that such a reason to act has to exist. Memory, tradition, notions of the cause: all of these things survive down the ages as reasons to slaughter. Without them the world would be a better place; and, believes Yerushalmi, we can live without them.

When a nation builds its nationality on collective memory, such as the Palestinians want to do - the notion that Israel is the enemy, they kill us, we are a nation if we remember that. In prison, Geum-ja assumes contrasting identities that have been imposed on her by a prurient public unable to reconcile her looks with her crime.

Novelist, Playwright, Editor

Reuniting with her child, who was adopted by an Australian couple, Geum-ja finds herself once again split between two irreconcilable roles -- the motherly angel and the all-business witch -- chafing against the constraints. Lee Yeong-ae projects innocence even as she kills in cold blood, and remains a mystery even as everyone around her tries to tell her who she is and how to live. Everyone who knows her has a different idea of what that is, exactly. And all of them are too limiting to qualify as human. A Tartan Films release. Directed by Park Chanwook. Written by Chung Seo-kyung and Park Chanwook.

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