Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

An Electrifying Production of Sophocles' Elektra

Also see Richard's review of Shirley Jones, Betty Buckley and Mary Wilson

Allegra Rose Edwards and
René Augesen

American Conservatory Theatre is presenting a new version of Sophocles' tragedy Elektra translated by Timberlake Wertenbaker and directed by Carey Perloff. The makeshift interpretation is modern, delivering plot with easy-to-follow clarity, while giving the psychology little attention. The last time I saw the Sophocles tragedy was in London's Richmond District with Zoe Wanamaker in 1997.

The cycle of horror and bloodshed that begins with the sacrifice of Iphigenia by King Agamemnon is finally ending. Agamemnon's Queen, Clytemnestra (Caroline Lagerfelt), has slain her husband and now shares his bed with Aegisthus (Steven Anthony Jones). Elektra (René Augesen) wants retaliation, but she needs her expatriate brother Orestes (Nick Sheen) to either spur her or complete the act. He has been away so long that it is doubtful Elektra will recognize him, even if she sees him. Of course, he does return and the bloody cycle moves to a close. However, if you know what's coming the experience is no less impactful or intense.

Augesen's Elektra, with matted hair, sooty face and general grime, roams about the stage and you feel her inner torment. It is as if the beleaguered woman is about to lose her sanity and is headed to a psychiatric hospital, if there were such a thing in ancient Greece. It is a splendid portrayal of someone going into madness. Leading a sympathetic Chorus is Olympia Dukakis. She is preoccupied in her grief. Her eerie eyes leave no doubt as the horrors she has witnessed and known all follow. Arms raised to implore heaven's intervention or fist beating chest in grief, her every movement serves to interconnect. It is a tour de force of Greek tragedy acting.

Anthony Fusco gives a mesmeric performance as Tutor, who raised Orestes for revenge. He is riveting when he gives a detailed fabricated account of Orestes's "death" in a chariot race. Nick Steen gives an engaging portrayal of Orestes, while Allegra Rose Edwards as Chrysothemis, who has made harmony with her mother's sin, wanders in and out. Caroline Lagerfelt, as Clytemnestra in a flowing, flamboyant gown, is charismatic in one of the all-time great two-person scenes with Elektra. Steven Anthony Jones in one short scene is powerful as the authoritative Aegisthus. Titus Tompkins in a small role as Pylades gives a virtuous performance.

David Lang's passionately charged score is vividly bowed, tugged, rapped and vocalized by cellist Theresa Wong, who serves as a second Chorus. Ralph Funicello's set is a black on black palace and chain-link fence in front of the palace. Candice Donnelly's costumes boldly mix modern and ancient pieces, especially Clytemnestra's opulent outfit. Cliff Caruthers' sound adds to the intensity of the 85-minute drama.

Elektra runs through November 18 at the American Conservatory Theatre. 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit Coming up next is the holiday classic A Christmas Carol opening on November 30 and running through December 24th.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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