Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Orestes: A Tragic Romp

Also see Susan's review of Permanent Collection

Holly Twyford and
Jay Sullivan

Theatergoers who are at all familiar with Greek tragedy know the story of Electra, who joins with her brother Orestes to kill their mother Clytemnestra in revenge for her murder of Agamemnon, her husband and their father. What happens next is the subject of Orestes: A Tragic Romp, the luminous play receiving its world premiere at Washington's Folger Theatre.

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.

Folger Theatre
Orestes: A Tragic Romp
January 27th —March 7th
Translated and adapted by Anne Washburn from the play by Euripides
Chorus: Lauren Culpepper
Helen of Troy/Menelaus/Pylades/Trojan Slave: Chris Genebach
Chorus: Rebecca Hart
Chorus: Marissa Molnar
Chorus/Hermione: Margo Seibert
Orestes/Messenger: Jay Sullivan
Electra/Tyndareus: Holly Twyford
Chorus: Rachel Zampelli
Voice of Apollo (recorded): Lynn Redgrave
Directed by Aaron Posner
Co-produced with Two River Theater Company, Red Bank, NJ
201 E. Capitol St., S.E.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-544-7077 or

Photo: Carol Pratt/Folger Theatre

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