The Oresteia, Constellation Theatre Company

The first thing that came to mind when my Comrade in Theatrical Bloggery approached me to say we'd been offered tickets to see Constellation Theatre's production of The Oresteia was, DUDE! WHO DOES a Greek trilogy these days? SIGN ME UP, BABY.

Capslock or no, you really can't deny the truth behind my reaction. I studied The Oresteia and other Greek plays in college, but I've never had a chance to see them produced (at least, not beyond a VHS of a performance from the National Theatre in London dug up by my professor). When opportunities to see these plays arise, I feel that they should leapt upon with all due speed. Of course, one could argue that that would be taking quite a risk- There's a reason people don't produce these plays today, the snooty voice in the back of my head responds. They're difficult, and the chances of seeing a poor production are probably rather high. While Snooty has a point, I think we both agree that what Constellation has wrought is quite an achievement.

Allison Arkell Stockman has adapted and directed the Robert Fagles translation of these texts. For her purposes, she's condensed what would have been an entire day's worth of playgoing into one evening. Until someone steps up to produce all three plays in Aeschylus' Oresteia sequence in one day, Stockman's solution is the most viable and one she has crafted handily into a three hour whirlwind. Agamemnon takes up the first half of the evening, leaving The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides for the conclusion.

When I studied Greek tragedy in college, I often dwelt upon how on earth anyone could stage the plays today. I think I probably wrote an essay (or two) over the years where I poked and prodded at the idea of the Messenger and the function of the Chorus. I doubt I came to any sort of useful conclusion (ah, academia!), but those questions continued to rootle around in the back of my brain and I was looking forward to seeing the answers Constellation might provide.

Wrapped up in my preoccupation with all the Messenger-style roles in Greek drama, where the audience suddenly has explained to them in detail all the exciting things that are taking place offstage, was a question about the playability of all the grand, massive speeches that compromise so much of these plays. Mamet, it ain't. But when I think about what I want from a company performing Aeschylus, what I WANT is something grand, something that fearlessly tap dances on the edge of the Over the Top Abyss and isn't afraid of being called out for turning its back on naturalism. Far as I can tell, Greek drama WAS NOT NATURAL. The players were MASKED, lest we forget- their performances MUST HAVE relied on playing it big and using every inflection of the voice and every nuance of movement to convey the story to the audience. And, to my great joy, this is at the root of the approach taken by Constellation. HISTRIONICS GALORE! This is a MASSIVE story and responds well to its GINORMOUS company of actors willing to Go There without restraint. Clytemnestra (the excellent Nanna Ingvarsson) comes on COVERED IN GORE! It's AWESOME! The clairvoyant Cassandra has visions of just what goes on in the House of Atreus and we can SEE it in her body, hear it in her voice- it's my favorite role in the whole trilogy and for my part, Jennifer Cooks ROCKS IT.

For me, the real star of the evening is the Chorus. I was wriggling with excitement to see how Stockman would play them- there's not a lot on the page to hint how they should be staged, and there are a plethora of options available. What I LOVED was that Stockman used just about every device I could have anticipated. Her Chorus speaks in unison, it sings, it chants. It uses rhythm and movement and dance. It's magnificent.

I'll happily give another shout out to the musical accompaniment provided by Tom Teasley. While Teasley could, on occasion, drown out the voices of the actors, it adds a wonderful atmosphere to the proceedings below.

For me, the best advice I can give is, if you have any interest in exploring what we can make of the Western world's earliest forays into the theatrical form, GO! Go and see it, but when you do, be prepared. You've got to be willing to embrace a theatrical form that's more stylized than what most of us are used to seeing. The company, as a whole, is plucky- not perfect. But, DUDE. WHO ELSE does a Greek trilogy these days? Take the chance Constellation is giving you. I'll never approach my battered old copies of Greek drama in quite the same way, and for that, I am immanently grateful.


Popular Posts