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    Stephanie Roth Haberle in Agamemnon. in An Oresteia
    Photo by Joan Marcus
    Stephanie Roth Haberle in "Agamemnon."


    Classic Stage Company disappoint with an uneven and seemingly unfinished production of Anne Carson's new "An Oresteia."


    Nothing quite embodies the Greek Tragedies like plywood. This, at least, must have been the thinking behind Classic Stage Company's slapped-together production of "An Oresteia," in which the visual motif of unpainted wood is really the only element tying the three works together. This is especially unfortunate for anyone attending the weekend marathons, since staring at this backdrop for six hours is not only evocative of splinters and construction sites, but also of a production that isn't quite finished. They couldn't at least paint the floor?

    Company: Classic Stage Company.
    Written by: Anne Carson.
    Directed by: Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas ("Agamemnon" and "Elektra"); Paul Lazar and Ann.
    Based on "Agamemnon," "Elektra," and "Oreste by: Aeschuylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
    Cast: Craig Baldwin, Michi Barall, Jess Barbagallo, Annika Boras, Eric Dyer, Stephanie Roth Haerle, Dan Hurlin, Karinne Keithly, Doan Ly, Christopher McCann, Steve Mellow, David Neumann, Mickey Solis, Ching Valdes-Aran.
    Choreography by: Annie-B Parsons ("Orestes").
    Set design by: Riccardo Hernandez.
    Costumes by: Oana Botez-Ban.
    Lighting design by: Maruti Evans.

    Related links: Official site
    Calvary Episcopal Church
    Park Avenue South at 21st Street (entrance on 21st)
    Previews start: March 22, 2009
    April 1-19, 2009

    My initial impulse is to be lenient in my assessment of Classic Stage's "Oresteia." Not only is CSC one of my favorite companies in New York, but it seems apparent that the budget and rehearsal time required of one play had to be stretched out to accommodate three. Nevertheless, whatever the material limitations, they should have facilitated imaginative solutions rather than so obviously hindered them. This was especially true for the first two plays, adapted by Anne Carson from Aeschylus's "Agammenon" and Sophocles's "Elektra," respectively. That Paul Lazar and Annie B-Parsons were able to approach Carson's "Orestes," adapted from the Euripides, with so much invention — embellishing its tone of dramatic comedy with musical numbers and dances — only underlined the deficiencies of the other two plays.

    A decent production of the "Oresteia" should have, at the very least, some conviction about what the work is about. If it's not about political discord and revolutionary uprising, and it's not about the evolution of enlightenment and Athenian democracy, and it's also not about a family of wounded individuals, then it should convincingly be about something. That the CSC production does not seem to be about anything is at the heart of the problem here and not, according to another patron overheard during intermission, that it's "too modern." Not so, my fellow theatergoer. Rather, the issue was not the "modernness" itself, but that the production was ripe with the clichés of modern stagings. How many times, for example, has Agamemnon appeared in some form of Western military garb? How many times has Clytemnestra been portrayed as a martini-swilling cougar? How original or truthful is it to have Elektra depicted as just some rebellious teen with goth eye makeup? Rather than making the material relevant and contemporary, these choices seemed to excuse the performers from really engaging with the material.

    Annika Boras in Elektra. in An Oresteia  
    Photo by Joan Marcus  
    Annika Boras in "Elektra."
    One of the few honest moments of acting came at the climax of Elektra's dialogue with her sister Chrysothemis, played by Michi Barall. However, it was the truthfulness not of an argument over whether or not to commit matricide but one more fitting: that of two roommate bickering over whose turn it was to buy toilet paper. Not only were the ideas in the first two plays disconnected and insufficiently thought through, but Kulick and his co-director, Gisela Cardenas, seemed to indulge in directorial short cuts. I am hereby declaring the technique of cutting the lights to a spot and introducing whiny/tickling new age music whilst an actor delivers a monologue to be unacceptable and over-used. Theater directors, please stop doing it.

      The bad wigs, slapdash costumes, and blindingly ugly set wouldn't have seemed so amateurish if the performances had really taken on the material.
    The bad wigs, slapdash costumes, and blindingly ugly set wouldn't have seemed so amateurish if the performances had really taken on the material. This is especially true for the first two plays, "Agammenon" and "Electra." Stephanie Roth Haberle's cartoonish Clytemnestra was a study in unrestrained ridiculousness that made Faye Dunaway's Mommy Dearest look subtle. Instead of shading her portrayal with Clytemnestra's narcissism or her pained motherhood, Haberle served up Clytemnestra as a psychopathic Disney villainess, a kind of Cruella DeVille steeped in the ethos of "Desperate Housewives." Better was Annika Boras. While arguably a bit young for the role, and thus not able to project the full force of an ideal Elektra, Boras nevertheless delivered the one truly affecting monologue of the entire production (the one over Orestes's urn), one of the few moments during the first two plays when I felt like I was actually watching Sophocles.

    Mickey Solis and Annika Boras in Orestes. in An Oresteia  
    Photo by Joan Marcus  
    Mickey Solis and Annika Boras in "Orestes."
    It was not until the final play of the evening that the level of excitement one expects from live theater finally took hold. Anne Carson, who is arguably one of the few truly daring and innovative poets in America, contributed a translation that (without having read the text itself) sounds like an odd mixture of the colloquial and the deadpan, with a few inspired lyric moments scattered throughout. Her natural wit was also most at home in Eurpides's "Orestes." Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parsons also benefited from some new faces in the cast. Even David Neumann's Helen could not have prepared me for his Trojan Slave. And Jess Barbagallo's Pylades had a way of being earnest without sacrificing the comedy.

    APRIL 14, 2009

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