“I do hate Greek drama where everything happens off stage.” -Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Well, Mags, there is a whole lot of stuff going on stage in this Greek drama.
#140. Mary Arrchie Theatre, in association with Illinois State University, presents ELECTRA. Family dysfunction never goes out of style. Plays written as early as 410 BC put bad parenting and domestic violence center stage. Electra’s parents hit a rough patch when Dad, Agamemnon, killed their daughter, Iphigenia. Mom, Clytemnestra, never forgave her husband and eventually killed him. But this story is about the other kids: Electra and Orestes. When their mother abandons them, Electra is married off to a peasant farmer. Her brother Orestes is raised by King Phocis. When they are reunited, their mother’s neglect is their shared obsession. They want revenge on the maternal home wrecker. Mommie dearest is going down! ELECTRA gets muddy over dirty family secrets.
Adapter and director Sonja Moser ambitiously attacks this ancient subject matter. Moser comes at it from several different angles. It’s part mythology lesson, part rock concert, part school pageant, part mud fight. There are a lot of movable parts! Some of it is brilliant. Some of it is annoying. And to be fair, the opening was a little steamy which limits my tolerance for squabbling. 100 degree temps outside. Struggling air conditioner inside. And sixteen cast members continually break character to brawl over the play’s direction. I got aggravated. I wanted to scream, “Dammit kids! Stop fighting and finish the show!”
But let’s chat about the brilliant parts. Upon arrival, the dynamic harmonizing chorus (Gwen de Veer, Lauren Pfeiffer, Paula Nowak) is serenading the guests. (The trio add sass and song throughout the show.) Behind them, Scenic Designer Alexander K has stretched a plastic backdrop of a barnyard. During the preshow, the landscape is being painted from behind. It’s kind of cool... like watching someone color inside-out. The show starts casually with cast introductions. The fourth wall disappears. I don’t really care for the forced familiarity that feels like improv class. I do like Matthew Bausone (Farmer) serving as a sidebar narration. An animated Bausone delivers the Mythology-for-Dummies snippets. Although my interest is peaked to take a Mythology course, the lineage and ritual explanations get excessive. And Bausone’s dissertation is regularly interrupted by cast complaints. Those dramatic moments trying to be comedic are regular speed bumps.
When the cast is in character, they are electrifying. Caitlin Boho (Clytemnestra) was outstanding as the statuesque mother. Her oration is delivered with commanding majesty. And then as Emily Nichelson (Electra) rants at her, Boho’s emotionless face has two tears run down it. WOW! Nichelson is her own little powerhouse of emotion. She spirals out of control at exhausting speed. And then she sings with divalicious ferocity. ELECTRA is a musical. And the finale is a melodious gift to the gods.
ELECTRA could stand to lose some of the educational and improvisational excess. A tighter, toner ELECTRA could be an unstoppable classic.
Running Time: Two hours with no intermission
At Angel Island, 735 W.Sheridan
Written by Eurpides
Adapted and directed by Sonja Moser
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Thru July 29th
Buy Tickets at www.maryarrchie.com