Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Aristotle/Alexander Imagines a Classic Relationship

New plays are the lifeblood of every theater, even one dedicated to ancient classics. New and old collide in Aristotle/Alexander, a play about two men whose names are almost universally known, more than 2500 years after their deaths. Playwright Alex Lyras has been workshopping his exploration of their remarkable time together and its long-term after-effects through the Getty’s Villa Theater Lab.

The play incorporates verbatim text from multiple extant sources related to a unique pairing: In 342 BCE, Aristotle, 43, accepts an invitation from Macedonian King Phillip II to tutor his 15-year-old son, Alexander. The rivalry builds between the esteemed intellectual and the audacious future king; in the play’s climax, alarming new truths with life-and-death consequences are revealed on both sides.

We asked Lyras about Aristotle/Alexander’s development process.

What inspired you to write this play? How long have you been developing it?

I realized that for all of the excellent historical fiction available on Alexander the Great, and there are some “great” ones, like Mary Renault and Steven Pressfield’s books, there was little to no focus on what his time with Aristotle was like.

As a recovering philosophy major, I knew I could tackle the intellectual side of the story in a way a fiction writer wouldn’t. This was totally uncharted territory. And what inspired me most was learning how inherently dramatic this scenario was: Teacher vs Student. Adult vs Adolescent. Athenian vs Macedonian. Intellectual vs Soldier. Introvert vs Extrovert. It’s no wonder they smashed horns like rams.

How did you conduct the research that informs the play?

There’s a ton of material out there to dive into, from academic journals and comic books to movies, docs and graphic novels. I went through a lot of it. But nothing beats immersion. When I learned that all of the locations in Greece where Aristotle taught Alexander still exist and are open to the public, I went to see for myself.

I sat at the archeological site where Philip built Aristotle’s laboratory and wrote the actual play there. The Royal Tombs of Aigai is a breathtaking museum literally constructed over King Philip’s (Alexander’s father) burial tomb. I also visited Aristotle’s childhood home in Stagira, which is not far from Thessaloniki. I strolled around the Lyceum, Aristotle’s school in Athens, and read his books there. It’s nerdy, yes, but also very intense.

When you go to Greece armed with all this knowledge, it completely changes how you see things. It’s such a treat to be able to walk in the footsteps of greatness.

The relationship between Aristotle and Alexander the Great asks questions about the responsibility of a teacher to a student and a leader to his people. Are there parallels to what’s happening today?

So many…While set in antiquity, the play juggles several contemporary themes: the decaying of democracy, potential despotism, scientific accuracy vs politically motivated spin, women’s rights or lack thereof. The script is provocative without being partisan. The teacher/student debate on which the plot hinges is pretty universal. And the play also offers a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek comedy. An original score [by Andreas Fevos] using authentic ancient instrumentation accompanies and a smart video design [by Jon Bonk] help the audience get a grip on the time period.

Could you describe the process of working with the Getty and their approach to selecting and workshopping shows with ties to the classics?

The Getty has a long tradition of producing modern interpretations of the classics. The production history on their website boasts collaborations with some truly impressive artists over the years: Olympias Dukakis and Ann Bogart, just to mention two. The staff there are incredibly supportive. They have some deep resources that I was happy to utilize. Shelby Brown, the museum’s archeologist in charge of Public Programs, offered some essential notes on the play. The theater itself is state of the art.

How would you say this play fits into your body of work?

I lean into stories where unexpected events force characters to expand their perspective on the world. I’ve written about an airport shutdown which ended up connecting strangers who would otherwise never have met. Another script swirled around a character who suffered a brain injury as loved ones collided over how to handle his recovery.

I think in Aristotle/Alexander, both characters come away impacted. They influence on each other set them off in new directions. I’ve had my own share of life changing events, and they’re often stranger than fiction. I’m definitely from the school that what does not kill me makes me more creative. And there’s always an underlying vein of comedy in the things I write. As Aristotle believed, humor and wit are virtues that can elevate what would otherwise be an ordinary interaction.

What are your next steps for Aristotle/Alexander after this workshop production?

We’re aiming for a proper commercial run in Los Angeles. Then New York, London, and hopefully Athens. They have a summer festival in the ancient theater of Epidauros that would be just perfect for this play.

The work-in-progress performances of Aristotle/Alexander will take place at the Getty Villa on Friday, April 5 at 7:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, April 6-7, at 3:00 pm. Tickets are free and can be reserved online here. Parking is $25, $15 after 3 pm. The Getty Villa is at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Latest Articles

.printfriendly { padding: 0 0 60px 50px; }