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Orestes with a Modern Sensibility

Orestes, A Tragedy

Author Anne Washburn has subtitled her new translation/adaptation of Euripides' classic Greek tragedy Orestes, A Tragic Romp. However, contrary to what one may assume from the extended title, her adaptation does not send up or undermine the classic, but, with contemporary phraseology and the pauses and inflections of her actors, Washburn provides insight and accessibility for her audience by providing Euripides' protagonists and chorus with a contemporary sensibility of skepticism and irony. Her approach should make this Orestes fresh and thoughtprovoking to those well versed in Greek tragedy and accessible, and entertaining to those of us who have only a nodding acquaintance with it.

As in the original, this Orestes opens by providing too much information as to antecedent events for the uninitiated to absorb. Here is a severely abridged version. Atreus had two sons, Menelaus, who married Helen, and Agamemnon, who married Clytemnestra. Helen deserted Menelaus, running off to Troy with a Trojan prince and causing a war with Troy. Agamemnon sacrificed the life of his own daughter Iphigenia to the god Artemis who otherwise would not provide the winds to carry the army's ships from Argos to Troy. After ten years of war, Agamemnon had returned home hero with Helen in hand. However, in short order, Agamemnon was killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus to the horror of Orestes and Electra, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra's surviving children. Allegedly at the behest of the god Apollo, Orestes murdered his father Agamemnon to avenge his mother's death. Orestes is being held by Menelaus for trial (for matricide), and Electra awaits trial for aiding him. If the preceding is in your head (an illustrated, extended version is posted on large cards in the lobby, and a talk on this is scheduled in Two Rivers commodious lobby 45 minutes prior to each performance), you will find this production immediately accessible.

The cast comprises three principals in eight roles, and a five-woman chorus. Chorus member Margo Seibert doubles in a small role. When the deus ex machina moment arrives, the words of Apollo are distinctively delivered via digital recording by the ever delightful Lynn Redgrave.

Jay Sullivan manages to be stentorian, quizzical and ironic all at once in his primary role of Orestes. As Orestes murderously plots his way out of danger, Sullivan brings energizing insouciance to his portrayal.

Chris Genebach is a classical Menelaus, a flighty (pun intended) Helen of Troy, and a conspiratorial Pylades (Orestes' best friend and co-conspirator). Holly Twyford in the role of Electra grips us with a fiendish delight at the start with her review of her antecedents' horrors (Electra's grandfather Atreus murdered his brother's two sons and baked them into a pie which he fed to their father). Twyford also portrays Tyndareus, the other grandfather of herself and Orestes.

The chorus is a lively presence as it looks askance at the activities which it narrates and comments upon. Composer James Sugg's eclectic chants and songs have a modern sound. Whether they are melodious or aggressively rhythmic, they provide the platform for the beautifully blended sound of the chorus. Chorister Margo Seibert doubles as Menelaus' daughter Hermione. The chorus' lively movement and dance is credited to Patty Gallagher.

Director Aaron Posner has directed crisply, keeping his cast within intimate distance of the audience on Daniel Conway's large, handsome, platformed set which thrusts into the auditorium. Jessica Ford's austere modern costumes complete the stage picture.

While avoiding inappropriate broadness, adaptor, director and cast have provided an entertaining, accessible Orestes which is neither too tragic for modern sensibilities nor too much of a romp.

Orestes, A Tragic Romp continues performances (Wednesday-Saturday 8pm/ Saturday & Sunday (4/11) 3pm) through April 11, 2010 at the Two River Theatre Company (Rechnitz Theatre), 21 Bridge Street, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Box Office: 732-345-1400; online: www.trtc.org/.

Orestes, A Tragic Romp translated and adapted by Anne Washburn from the play by Euripides; directed by Aaron Posner

Cast
Orestes/ Messenger...........................................................Jay Sullivan
Electra/ Tyndareus..........................................................Holly Twyford
Menelaus/ Helen of Troy/ Pylades/ Slave.......................Chris Genebach
Chorus/ Hermione...........................................................Margo Seibert
Chorus..............................................Lauren Culpepper, Rebecca Hart,
.........................................................Marissa Molnar, Rachel Zampelli
Voice of Apollo...............................................................Lynn Redgrave

co-production with the Folger Theatre, Washington, D.C.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


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- Bob Rendell



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