Court’s Greek trilogy concludes, but the tragic cycle never ends.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
That was written by William Faulkner, but it could describe the house of Atreus pretty well. Perhaps that’s why director Seret Scott chose a decaying southern estate as the setting for her production of Sophocles’ Electra. Capping off a three-year, pseudo-trilogy of new translations from Court Theatre’s founding artistic director Nicholas Rudall, the play is filled with characters who cannot distinguish between past wrongs and present vendettas.
Two years ago, the trilogy began with Iphigenia in Aulis, by Euripides, wherein King Agamemnon, patriarch of the House of Atreus, chooses to sacrifice his daughter so that the Greek armies can sail to the shores of Troy. (Long story short, the gods made him do it.) Last season, the story continued with Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, in which the titular king returns from ten years at war, only to be murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra (Sandra Marquez, masterful in all three plays), and her lover, Aegisthus (Michael Pogue), as revenge for Iphigenia’s death. Now, in Electra, Clytemnestra’s son Orestes (Thomas J. Cox) returns from exile to murder his mother for murdering his father for murdering his sister. It’s not a crime of passion or of belief. It’s just what he has to do.
Electra is Clytemnestra’s daughter, Orestes’ sister, and she’s played by Kate Fry, in a powerful, kaleidoscopic performance, as the human manifestation of grief. Clad in a ragged dress and an old coat, Electra has spent her life in angry mourning for her father’s death, choosing resistance over the more strategic acquiescence favored by her sister, Chrysothemis (Emjoy Gavino). Accompanied by a chorus of three women (played by Caren Blackmore, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Tracy Walsh), Electra has lived a life of utter misery because she refuses to accept injustice. If Fry didn’t imbue her with such a dark, rueful wit, Electra’s suffering might in fact be too difficult to watch.
When the play concludes—and Rudall’s rough trilogy along with it—it’s hard not to notice that there is very little hope on hand. Duty has been done, yes, and “justice” has been delivered…but all that really means is more bodies, more killing, more blood. Even now, the present is still indistinguishable from the past.
Court Theatre. By Sophocles. Translated by Nicholas Rudall. Directed by Seret Scott. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.