Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Orestes: A Tragic Romp
Also see Susan's review of Permanent Collection
Playwright Anne Washburn calls her work a "transadaptation" of the play written by Euripides more than 2,400 years ago. It's a complicated and difficult work, with viewpoints that rapidly shift and attitudes that encompass bitter irony as well as sorrow and hope but, as staged by director Aaron Posner, it's a fascinating experience with a surprising resolution, proving that the gods work in truly mysterious ways.
Holly Twyford, one of Washington's best and most versatile actresses, gives a magnetic performance as Electra. Rather than the histrionic, breast-beating performance one might expect, she takes a more inward tack, making the character's spiritual torment visible in her large, expressive eyes. She is well matched with Jay Sullivan as a young, exhausted Orestes, whose defense against a death sentence is that he only killed Clytemnestra at the order of the god Apollo. (Washburn uses the loaded words "fair and balanced" to describe the trial facing Orestes and Electra.)
The unusual aspects of this performance include a Greek chorus that actually sings James Sugg's melodies instead of simply providing commentary; the clever use of actors performing multiple roles (notably, Chris Genebach as the sleek, businesslike Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon; the distraught Helen of Troy, wife of Menelaus and sister of Clytemnestra, whom the Greeks still blame for the Trojan War; Orestes' outspoken friend Pylades; and a grieving Trojan slave); and the august voice of Lynn Redgrave providing the (inexplicable) ultimate judgment of Apollo.
Daniel Conway's scenic design is abstract and timeless, suggesting antiquity without becoming overly literal.