Thu Feb 22 2007
Photograph: Kyle Ancowitz
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
There are people—naturally no one we know—who only need to hear the words classical Greek theater to fall into a light doze. By the time an actor says “...and that’s how Zeus met my mother!” some unlucky souls have already entered REM sleep. And yet this handful of ancient works constitutes the core of Western drama. What’s a conscientious theater lover to do? Cheat. David Johnston’s witty crib sheet for Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the three-play cycle about Agamemnon’s blood-soaked family, zips through the generations—and if Johnston makes a lot of cuts, rest assured, the House of Atreus does too.
First, Clytemnestra (Kathy Lichter) butchers her husband Agamemnon (Frank Anderson) in the tub. Then her daughter Electra (Sarah Schoenberg, an Amanda Peet with talent) whines until Orestes (Brendan Bradley) ices Mom. Cue the Furies, who try to get Orestes to chew his hands off. The artful Johnston doesn’t have to goose the kitschy horror plot at all; it only takes contemporary language—“I’m not in the mood for your shit today, Electra”—to turn Aeschylus’ mighty yell into a total scream. Director Stephen Speights, aided by spectacular turns from Lichter, Anderson and the rest of the ensemble, darts between high drama and low comedy, without side-stepping the profundity of the original. By the time the final hysterical scene squeaks off on its rolling-platform ekkyklema, we’re all Greek fans. Even a Trojan would be shouting himself hoarse. —Helen Shaw