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Simonides Draws Big Crowd for Performance of ‘Socrates Now’

Award-winning actor returns to Northwestern for show and to work with classics professor

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A peculiar character, he traipsed around the stage at Northwestern University’s McCormick Auditorium barefoot and ranting about virtue, justice, love in life and hope in death.

Meet Socrates -- the icon of Western thought -- as his fifth-century contemporaries might have known him in Emmy Award-winning Yannis Simonides’ theatrical adaptation of the great philosopher’s trial defense speech.

“Socrates Now” returned for an encore performance at Northwestern Friday, Jan. 9, and for the second time packed a campus theater.

Performed around the world over the last decade, the one-man stage adaption of “The Apology” focuses on the complex character of the highly enigmatic philosopher and gives audience members a ringside seat at Socrates’ 399 B.C. trial. 

Simonides brings Socrates to life so that audiences might come to know him better and be inspired. 

“Socrates’ purpose was to teach his fellow human beings to live the good life, to live better,” Simonides said. Drawing on Socrates’ method, the actor leads a discussion with audience members following every show.

The performance is a glowing example of creativity in the use of classic texts, said Sara Monoson, professor of political science and classics at Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She is working with the actor on a new stage piece with a similar modus operandi.

“At Northwestern, we are interested in experimenting with new ways to keep fresh the very old practice of utilizing ancient models to reflect on one's own times,” Monoson said. “We are partnering with Simonides to shape a new project on Plato's ‘Republic’ for performance.”

Dubbed the “bad ass of Athens,” Socrates was sentenced to death because his questioning embarrassed influential Athenians and was claimed to corrupt youth.

So, who was Socrates?

“Everybody thinks of Socrates as a brilliant intellectual who could talk you under the table,” said Monoson. “But there is a lot of controversy over what Socrates was really like.

“Was he a brilliant examiner of ideas and a model of moderation? Or, was he an oddball who liked to go around in bare feet, unwashed and wearing lousy clothes? Was he an early advocate of free and open discussion or a subversive corrupter of youth?”

The truth is likely some combination of two disparate personas, Monoson said. What makes “Socrates Now” so unique is the actor’s ability to express both. 

Monoson is now looking forward to working with Simonides on her new project, “Socrates in the Vernacular.” 

The project examines ways in which 20th- and 21st-century writers and artists working in all kinds of genres have used or borrowed from the figure of Socrates in creative ways. 

“What interests me is the argument of how these Platonic pieces, such as ‘The Apology’ and ‘The Republic,’ and also works by Homer, make us live better, rather than think,” Simonides said. “The major purpose of my trip is to work very intensely with Sara in making some decisions on the material.” 

Crafting a script based on “The Republic” will be part of “Socrates in the Vernacular.”

 “Of course, it is not possible or advisable to even try to reproduce that whole monumental text for the stage. The plan is to create a performance piece that allows Simonides, once again as Socrates, to bring to the fore the fascinatingly theatrical elements that drive the complex argument forward, to give audiences a way to appreciate the way the text creates a spectacle for the mind’s eye.”

Monoson said it is all about ensuring a deeper understanding of the enduring interest of classics by a wider audience.

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