Pittsburgh Public Theater

Catherine Eaton
In his adaptation, Frank McGuinness presents a straightforward telling of Sophocles' fascinating family drama. Directed by Ted Pappas, the Pittsburgh Public Theater production is riveting, and its star, Catherine Eaton, is forceful.

Electra is really, really mad. And consumed with grief. She prays for an opportunity to revenge the death of her father, Agamemnon, even though that revenge would involve killing her own mother, Clytemnestra, and her mother's husband, Aegisthus. Electra's sister Chrysothemis tries to encourage her to move on with her life, but only the arrival of their brother Orestes begins to bring Electra out of her misery—he shares Electra's plan for avenging Agamemnon's death.

Pappas laid the groundwork for a fine production with Eaton in the title role. Surrounding her are other fine performers, including the always superb Lisa Harrow as the cold and selfish Clytemnestra; the lovely Catherine Gowl as sister Chrysothemis, who understands Electra's rage but is torn about taking revenge; Edward James Hyland as Orestes' servant, a voice of calm; and David Whalen in a brief but powerful appearance as the doomed Aegisthus. Perhaps it's just a contrast to Eaton's heightened performance, but Michael Simpson seems a bit emotionless as Orestes. Glynis Bell, Shinnerrie Jackson and Amy Landis form a supportive chorus, and David Bielewicz does all that can be expected as Orestes' silent attendant and witness, Pylades.

Ranting and wailing, Eaton shows the extent of Electra's suffering without becoming a caricature. The woman is in pain, it's clear, and she is not giving in or giving up. The relief she feels at the end of the play allows us to leave the theater without being weighed down by the emotion toll of taking in some of her initial despair.

James Noone's evocative set is austere, save for two very large crescent-shaped walls, suspended by chains, which separate the interior of the house and the outside. Once again, the lighting design of Kirk Bookman adds rich layers. Gabriel Berry's costumes are expressive, from Electra's Road Warrior-like rags to the chorus' monochromatic detailed outfits to Chrysothemis' 1940s-style powder blue dress (though Aegisthus' red, plunging neckline robe confused me).

Much like his production of Oedipus the King five years ago, Pappas presents a concentrated, fascinating, and searing production of Electra. As the company's tagline suggests, the season is off to a Red Hot start.

Electra runs through October 30 at the O'Reilly Theater in Pittsburgh's cultural district. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.

Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater

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