Theater review: ‘Hamlet,’ dir. Megan Brewer
By Katie Anastas The UW Daily
31 May, 2016
College students often find themselves at a crossroads. Whether it’s choosing a major, pursuing a career, picking a graduate school, or just figuring out what you’re doing over the summer, young adulthood comes with some tough decisions.
And for everyone’s favorite Shakespearean prince, tough decisions result in literal inner conflict in the Undergraduate Theater Society’s (UTS) newest production of “Hamlet.”
Hamlet (Peter Sakowicz), prince of Denmark, remains in mourning two months after his mother’s death. Though his father, Gertrude (Chris Mowers), encourages him to celebrate his marriage to his aunt Claudius (Gabi Boettner), Hamlet refuses to stop wearing black clothes and feels that his life no longer has value.
One night, Hamlet and his friends see the ghost of his deceased mother. She reveals that Claudius killed her, and instructs Hamlet to seek revenge against the woman who took over her throne and married her husband.
When Hamlet accepts this task, he literally splits in two, with Byron Walker playing the murderous, vengeful side of Hamlet. Sakowicz and Walker share Hamlet’s lines for the rest of the play, highlighting Hamlet’s inability to make decisions and act upon them.
The use of two Hamlets is extremely effective. Hamlet’s oscillation between action and inaction is highlighted in his soliloquies, with Sakowicz and Walker arguing with each other and, at times, dealing blows. In one scene, Sakowicz holds a book in front of his face to block Walker out of his view, symbolizing the moral beliefs that stop Hamlet from killing Claudius during most of the play.
The two Hamlets work surprisingly well outside of the soliloquies, thanks to the thoughtful division of the lines. Two notable examples are his confrontations with Ophelia (McKenna Donahue) and Gertrude. While Walker uses verbal and physical violence to provoke the reactions he wants from the other characters, Sakowicz seeks to console them, as if apologizing for the actions of his other half.
Eventually, Walker’s Hamlet is left to fight Ophelia’s sister Laertes (Lindsey Crocker) in the final duel, signifying his complete descent into madness and loss of restraint.
All of the show’s actors portray their characters well. Sakowicz depicts Hamlet’s familial devotion and keeps the audience on Hamlet’s side, while Walker’s anger and aggression are intimidating. Donahue and Crocker portray a loving sisterhood between Ophelia and Laertes. Mowers depicts Gertrude’s guilt and anxiety well throughout the play. Boettner is a powerful Queen Claudius, and the scene in which she prays for forgiveness is especially well done.
Making Laertes female worked well and strengthened her relationship with Ophelia. But, in my opinion, switching the genders of Claudius and Gertrude didn’t provide much of a new take on the characters. Since Gertrude remains rather feminine and Claudius rather masculine, their relationships with each other and with Hamlet remain the same.
The show’s visual elements are well suited to the play. The military-inspired costumes, mostly gray and black with touches of color, work well for both male and female characters. The set is minimal; gray and red banners get torn down as the play progresses, leaving only dark, blank walls for the final scene.
In the director’s note, Megan Brewer writes that Hamlet’s questions of identity are relevant for all people during times of transition. As another school year comes to an end, seniors graduate, and we as students seek to define our places in society, this production of “Hamlet” provides an innovative look at inner conflict and its resolution.
“Hamlet’s incessant search for self isn’t that far from our own personal realities,” Brewer writes. “In the end, the question is not about being or not being. It is about how.”
“Hamlet” runs from May 26 through June 5 at the Cabaret Theater in Hutchinson Hall. Tickets are $5 for UW students and $10 for general admission.
The verdict: The UTS’s production of “Hamlet” cleverly presents the character’s inner conflict and its damaging effects on himself and the people around him.
Theater review: ‘The Secretaries,’ dir. Alyssa Karounos
By Katie Anastas The UW Daily
22 April, 2016
Those of us who menstruate are used to the pain, mood swings, and cravings that come along with it. For the women in “The Secretaries,” that time of the month also involves chainsaws and murder.
UW’s Undergraduate Theater Society describes its latest production as “a provocatively feminist play about body image, sexuality, sex, PMS, blood, and killing men.”
The story revolves around Patty Johnson (Emma Halliday), a new secretary at the Cooney Lumber Mill. Initially, she is thrilled to begin her new job and get to know the three other secretaries in the office, Ashley Elizabeth Frantangelo (Rayna Stackhouse), Peaches Martin (Sayre Thompson), and Dawn Midnight (Nina Williams), and their boss, Susan Curtis (Gracia Imboden).
Confusion replaces excitement as Patty realizes that workplace camaraderie includes synced menstrual cycles, a forced diet of SlimFast shakes, celibacy pledges, lingerie parties, and the monthly killing of a local lumberjack.
The all-female cast does an excellent job with the challenging story. Halliday portrays Patty’s initial innocence and lasting confusion quite well. Stackhouse exudes jealousy, sophistication, and superiority. Thompson makes the audience sympathize with Peaches’ weight concerns. Williams, who also plays Patty’s boyfriend, Buzz, excels at both innocent flirting and complete seduction. Imboden is especially impressive, easily switching from powerfully sexy to frighteningly intimidating.
That said, this play is not for everyone.
“The Secretaries” was written by The Five Lesbian Brothers, a group of female playwrights who aim to “create provocative lesbian theater for the masses through the fine feminist art of collaboration.”
On their website, they write, “Our work … always tackles big themes such as internalized sexism and homophobia, the corrupting influence of corporate culture, sexual obsession. … We are equitable in our parody, skewering homosexuals and feminism with the same vigor we apply to mainstream culture, [and] the results are most often strikingly ‘politically incorrect.’”
“The Secretaries” attempts to skewer more than one play can handle. It criticizes both sexism and feminism, both dieting and weight gain, both heterosexuality and homosexuality, both consensual sex and sexual assault, leaving the audience unable to walk away with a clear message.While the play satirizes PMS by having its characters kill a man every 29 days, it’s difficult to call the entire play satirical because of the more realistic events it also includes. Many lines and situations are genuinely funny, but there are also multiple scenes of sexual harassment and lack of consent. Some of these scenes are exaggerated (Susan unbuttoning Patty’s shirt in the middle of the office), while others are not (Dawn continually attempting to have sex with Patty despite her multiple protests).
Though its writers identify as feminist lesbians themselves, the show portrays this group as very predatory. Patty’s relationship with Buzz is much healthier than her encounters with Dawn. The female characters, especially Dawn and Susan, consistently overstep sexual boundaries. While trying to sleep with Patty, Dawn jokes that sex doesn’t count if it’s between two women, allowing both of them to deny the abusive nature of their relationship.
The program warns of “language, weapons, explicit sexual content, loud noises, mature content, [and] excessive use of blood,” but it’s the conflicting messages about feminism and sexuality that makes “The Secretaries” an overwhelming experience.
“The Secretaries” runs through May 1. It is one hour and 50 minutes long, with no intermission. The show’s designers, cast, and crew will be hosting “talkbacks” after the performances April 23 and April 30 to discuss the play with audience members.
The verdict: The multitude of messages in “The Secretaries” may be more intimidating than the blood and chainsaws.
Buried in The Language Archive
By Omar Willey The Seattle Star
4 March, 2016
I spent seventeen years working as a baker. In college I studied comparative linguistics. I also used to speak Esperanto, helped by collecting ESP Jazz albums as a youth (ESP being short for Esperanto, as it turns out). Indeed I once donated my own linguistics books to a production of the play, so by all rights I should be deeply sympathetic with Julia Cho’s play The Language Archive which is about linguistics and bread baking and learning Esperanto.
I’ve seen it three times now in different productions. Each time I see it the play reveals more untenable flaws, not the least of which is empty pretense. For a play that pretends to deal with language, it’s shockingly banal. It contains not a single intellectual argument or discussion, preferring instead to insert lectures and soliloquy. Remove its references to linguistics, and the play appears in its naked glory as a bourgeois melodrama about bourgeois characters dealing with the bourgeois topic of divorce with bourgeois generality.
In chain of escapist fantasies, George, the nominal protagonist, escapes into dead and dying languages. His wife escapes into the romantic fantasy of travel and a new life. Emma, George’s assistant, escapes into visions of romance with George. It all sounds so tragic, except it isn’t. All of them are completely self-absorbed as though their own pain were unique and somehow defined the entire universe. At any point any one of them could act or speak, but none of them does because, you know, words and stuff are hard. The minor characters around them have far more pluck than the three nominal leads, leaving me to wonder why the author didn’t simply write about them and leave ciphers like George, Mary, and Emma to wander off into a Tracy Letts play to be shot at.
Structurally, too, it fails me. Unidentified modes of address run throughout the piece. Characters dream, but then they don’t really. People lie, or maybe not; no one pursues the issue any further. Soliloquies on stage are heard by other characters on stage, but not consistently. The tidy summing-up by characters at the end is as fatuous as the end of a Hallmark Channel docudrama. I expected to see projected supertitles above the stage, saying, “It gets better” or “If you have trouble with being a gutless white person who avoids Truth, please call us at 206-555-1212” followed by a K-Pop song over the rear title credits.
Given all that, I knew the UW Undergraduate Theater Society would be up against it. But the wonderful thing about student drama is that is forces me to reassess. Particularly at the undergraduate level, the students choose plays because that’s what they actually want to do, and need not pretend otherwise. Consequently they throw themselves into their work and they find what speaks to them.
What speaks to director Parker Kennedy in this play is, I think, the way that it moves fluidly between inner psychology and outer expression as two distinct worlds that overlap. To that end, Mr. Kennedy has accentuated the play’s artifice. Fiona Clark and David Carli-Arnold have provided staging that is truly spartan. The stagehands themselves are clearly visible during transitions. Even actors leaving and entering make their transit by being wheeled in and out of the space while the beautiful “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky plays in the background.
I think this helps the production greatly. The whole play is artificial, so the director’s artificial approach speaks to what he has found the text. Mr. Kennedy has also read the play for what it is in another sense: instead of a discursive piece of dramatized situations, it is really a series of actor moments. Best then to give them minimal structure, then get out of the way of the actors.
Much of this cast is new to me. I’ve seen Connor Mullaney, Jake Lemberg, and Hannah Probst before, and they are delightful as always. The chemistry between Mr. Lemberg and Ms. Probst especially charmed me. I am also very fond of Sarah Russell’s turn as the language instructor. It’s rough, silly, even naive, yet she imbues it with a genuine human tenderness without ever being saccharine.
Those minor characters have all the best lines. Watching Lucia Lobosvilla as Emma, however, was a revelation. Given perhaps the most difficult role in the play, Ms. Lobosvilla creates a performance that is remarkable for its subtlety. Her skill at listening actively while still keeping everything at a necessary emotional distance for her character shows a level of skill I wish some professional actors had. Emma is supposed to be the frumpy, unattractive, dismissible woman of small dreams in the piece, and yet Ms. Lobosvilla somehow turns her into a sympathetic and realistic woman instead of a mere type.
Given his family name, I expect good things from Dalton Broback. He handles George’s stultified personality as well as I might expect, and has a fine voice. But George would be challenging even for the finest actor in the world. How does one make him into anything other than an insufferably puerile oaf? I have no idea, because I’ve never seen it happen. Even a talent like Mr. Broback’s blunts as it pounds against that wall. I look forward to seeing him in something where he can let himself go a little more than here, where cluelessness is the name of the game.
As Mary, Lindsey Crocker seems to be working against what I think are her natural gifts for characterization. Part of the problem no doubt stems from my having seen it early in its run. There are moments where it seems she is in a hurry to get to the next peak moment rather than simply inhabiting her space–which she does very well. I suspect that this will smooth out over the run of the play. Ms. Crocker has a gift for physical work that would serve her well in a more comic piece. Her turn here made me consider how much more I would like this play if it were played more as a screwball comedy instead of a two hour Lifetime movie.
I await a production in which a cast this talented can make a real argument for the play. I haven’t seen that show yet–I doubt seriously that I ever will–but it must be possible. The students of the UW UTS have done an excellent job pointing out certain aspects of the play where it might actually hold some real power. But there is a long way to go. Nothing changes my mind that the play is fundamentally a compromised melodrama, when what I really want is either a real melodrama or a real dramatic argument.
Theater review: ‘The Language Archive,’ dir. Parker Kennedy
By Katie Anastas The UW Daily
4 March, 2016
It’s estimated that every two weeks, a language dies,” says George, the main character of the latest play from the UW Undergraduate Theater Society. “I don’t know about you, but this statistic moves me far more than any statistic on how many animals die or people die in a given time, in a given place. Because when we say a language dies, we are talking about a whole world, a whole way of life.”
Written by Julia Cho and directed by Parker Kennedy, “The Language Archive,” tells the story of a linguist whose wife leaves him to pursue a life on her own. Through their encounters with each other and with other people, they learn to understand the power of both speech and silence.
The play begins with an argument between George (Dalton Broback) and Mary (Lindsey Crocker), a married couple whose rocky relationship is rooted in miscommunication. George complains about Mary’s constant crying, while Mary feels George shows a lack of emotional sensitivity. Mary leaves notes for George throughout the house foreshadowing the end of their marriage, and the first scene ends with Mary telling George, “I’m leaving you.”
The rest of the story follows George and Mary after their separation. George, a linguist, works on his project called “The Language Archive,” in which he attempts to record speakers of dying languages. He and his assistant, Emma (Lucia Lobosvilla), work to record the last two speakers of the Elloway language. This elderly couple, Alta (Hannah Probst) and Resten (Jake Lemberg), only speak in English during their many arguments, much to George’s frustration.
Meanwhile, Emma attempts to learn Esperanto, a universal language created by L. L. Zamenhof in 1887 that has become George’s favorite. Constantly searching for opportunities to confess her love for him, Emma acts as George’s emotional support as he accepts the loss of his wife.
“The Language Archive” surrounds its audience with language. Audience members hear recordings of people saying, “Hello” and “I love you” in different languages as they walk into the theater. George breaks the fourth wall immediately, speaking to the audience throughout the show. He leads a “brief lesson in Esperanto” after the intermission, drawing the audience back into the world of the play.
The stage consists of a small wooden platform under a spotlight. A variety of settings are created using a small amount of furniture; the chairs in George and Mary’s house double as a train car later in the play, and the pieces of a train station bench are transformed into a bed. Actors and furniture are rolled on and off stage on a platform, making them look like dolls being brought to a doll house.
All of the actors bring personality and depth to their characters. Probst and Lemberg provide comic relief as a bickering couple, with Alta defending her cooking abilities while Resten struggles to swallow one bite of her homemade stew. Crocker delivers a beautiful performance as Mary, showing both strength and vulnerability as she attempts to create a new life for herself. Lobosvilla charmingly depicts the joy and suffering of unrequited love. Broback’s performance is especially strong, portraying the admirable, yet flawed linguist struggling to find the right words for how he feels.
The play explores both the power and limitations of language, especially among people who love each other. The loss of communication between George and Mary mirrors the potential loss of the Elloway language, and all characters struggle to articulate responses to the problems they face.
“The Language Archive” will run through March 13 at the Cabaret Theatre in Hutchinson Hall. The show is two hours long with a 10-minute intermission.
The verdict: Strong acting performances, interactive elements, and an innovative set will leave you at a loss for words.
Electra: Oration, Orison, and Oratorio
By Omar Willey The Seattle Star
Gary Corseri recently reminded me of a legend about Sophocles from Cicero’s On Old Age. In his 90s, his much younger and greedier sons tried to assume control over all of the old man’s wealth. They argued before the court that because he was in his 90s, his memory was giving out and he had become senile. Thus the playwright was incompetent to manage his affairs and they asked for control over the estate. When the court asked Sophocles to respond about whether his memory had begun to fail, he began to recite lines from every play he had written, including his latest, Oedipus at Colonus, with perfect recall and a bit of thespian skill as well.
The case was dismissed, of course.
I bring this up not only because I love Sophocles and because it’s a marvelous tale but also because the story reveals one of the playwright’s greatest qualities–namely, his incredible attention to details. Every poetic turn of phrase, every ironic comment, every description of a person or object has a purpose: to lead the audience to the inexorable denouement.
It’s a formidable challenge to shape it all correctly. The shape of the Undergraduate Theater Society’s production of Sophocles’ Electra (adapted by Frank McGuinness) is surprisingly strong, but the details are still a little rough. Director Rachel Perlot’s overall conception is sensible enough: strip away everything extraneous, connect the bloodshed of Greek tragedy visually with the contemporary horror film, and make people wonder if Electra is an avenging angel or a complete nutjob. This in many ways is completely traditional. The director is also blessed with a rather good cast. The problems come in striking just the right tone at the right time within the text.
Whatever my misgivings about Frank McGuinness’s translation, it does give the cast and director clues on how to handle the text. There are, essentially, four different levels within the play. There is the purely informational speech, which is extremely rare in the piece. The other three are more difficult to extract, but for purposes of discussion I like to call them oration, orison, and oratorio. Oration text is poetic, argumentative, approbatory, accusatory–in other words, “heightened speech.” Orison is prayer: ritualistic, solemn, meant to invoke the gods. And oratorio is, of course, music but music on an operatic level, music which one must sing.
Ms. Perlot understands the level of oration well enough. But the other levels are less clear. Electra’s entrance, for instance, offers an example.
Divine light, Sweet air, Again hear My pain. Divine light, Sweet air, Again hear My pain. Have you not witnessed when morning breaks My heart break, my heart break?
The repetition here is a stone-cold clue that this is an orison. There is the invocation–divine light being another phrase for the god Apollo–and then there is the prayer at the close:
I call upon Persephone I call upon the dead, I call upon the Furies Revenge my father’s blood-stained marriage bed Revenge my father, Send me back my brother
But what’s in the middle? It’s difficult to say. Given:
My mother’s hands turned red with his blood. Adulteress, Adulterer, she and Aegisthus, split him open with an axe.
This could purely informational or this could be oratory, but it’s certainly not the orison which starts and ends the speech. I’m not suggesting there is one interpretation. But the director has to choose one way or the other. I’m not sure Ms. Perlot ever does choose. It’s not completely down to the actors, because this same mix of levels recurs throughout the play enough to be a structural element.
Then there are times where I really, really wish the play would elevate to the level of oratorio. There is a moment after the messenger delivers the word that Orestes is dead where Electra and Chorus lament together. The actors here do a fine job of listening to each other as they trade off not just words but also sounds and gestures. It’s inspired and beautiful and evocative. And I wish they’d go just that much further, all the way into pure music. On the night I saw the production the actors seemed to be holding back, as though they could sense where they wanted to go but couldn’t get there. I’m hoping by now they’ve pulled out the stops.
I think this is a cast that can do it.
Last I saw Elex Hill was as a tour guide in Harlequin‘s production of Middletown. Though she was surrounded by an excellent cast and struck me as perfectly capable, that role didn’t give her a whole lot to do. With her portrayal of Electra I can see a little more what kind of an actor she is. She is an emotionally explosive actor with some sharp edges and she tries to do more with less. She makes a very good Electra that, with some clarity of direction, could be truly powerful.
I’ve been watching Emma Broback for a couple of years now, too. She’s always had a lovely voice and she handles prose text well even in a play like N3RD, which was just a bit too twee for me. This time out I was impressed highly by the way she moves. While the rest of the cast are much more naturalistic with their movements, Ms. Broback has stylized her movements to a high degree. I appreciated this interpretation; it gives her role as the chorus a distinct and discrete part in the drama where she is partly in, partly of, and yet largely outside the production, which I think is an excellent approach for the Sophoclesian chorus who seem at times to be conservative roadblocks and at others to be absolutely sympathetic allies. Shifting back and forth between these functions as effortlessly as Ms. Broback does is admirable, and anchors the other actors around her.
Ai Nguyen’s performance reminds me a little of Coleridge’s quote that watching Kean perform was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning. With Ms. Nguyen it’s a little more like watching a flickering fluorescent bulb. No one will doubt her beauty or her stage presence. When she enters she absolutely commands the stage. She has a good voice, a subtle voice, but then her Clytemnestra could whisper half of her performance and she would still control the drama. The flickering feeling, I think, comes back to the essential problem of not deciding what level of speech the play is on at various points.
For me, Clytemnestra is a desperate woman, rather than a wicked one. Like every character in the house of Atreus (both by blood and by location), she is caught in what Richmond Lattimore called a cycle of “murder committed not against an external enemy, but against a part of the self.” True, she has killed her husband. More importantly, she has killed a king. Yet she has very sound reasons (I hesitate to say “good”) to demand blood justice for her husband’s killing of their own daughter–her husband, after all, is not her blood; her daughter is. So what is the function of her dialogue with Electra? Is it purely informative? Is it poetic pleading and thus oratory? And if it’s oration, why is she trying to convince her daughter, and of what? Does she want Electra’s love and acceptance, or merely her silence?
This is extremely difficult to answer within the production. Ms. Nguyen seems to alternate between fear of Electra (and by proxy of Orestes) and a sort of smug inviolability. Both of these make sense and are definitely present in the text. What’s missing is genuine love and tenderness. It comes out in flashes, like lightning, but its purpose is just as mysterious as nature. When Clytemnestra hears of Orestes’ death, she is relieved–understandably–but I think she also needs to be maternal in a very particular way toward Electra, telling her effectively, “Look, your revenge fantasy is over. Now can we be a family again?” Ms. Nguyen handles the first half of that mixed emotion quite well. The second half of that emotion sometimes goes begging. Again, I think some of this is down to Ms. Perlot and some to my having seen the piece early in the run. It may work itself out. I certainly hope so.
As it stood on the night I saw it, the ending of the play was a bit of a muddle. In the director’s defense, it’s an extremely enigmatic ending. In The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus, which is essentially the same story, the play ends with Orestes being chased by the Furies. The cycle of blood is not yet at an end. In Sophocles’ version the action stops with Aegisthus entering the house for the last time. The question then is: Has the cycle of blood ended, according to Sophocles? Or, more importantly, to Ms. Perlot? I don’t have an answer to this. I don’t think Ms. Perlot does either. Yet a successful production hinges on this.
I’ve seen the play probably a dozen times in my life and I’ve seen a dozen different things tried. In the London production I saw the sound design went completely silent as Orestes and Aegisthus went into the house, then became very dark and ominous. Decision: clearly not the end of the blood cycle. I’ve also seen the entire cast except for Orestes and Aegisthus surround the body of Clytemnestra, led by Electra, weeping. Decision: clearly the end. Both were effective. Both answered the question. I should like Ms. Perlot to answer the question with similar effect.
I do not intend to diminish Ms. Perlot’s efforts. She’s blessed with a fine cast and herself obviously has an excellent eye for balancing the action and extending the stage non-traditionally. She also has a fine crew of designers, especially Isabel Martin, whose costumes are excellent symbolically as well as functionally. I’m delighted, in fact, that it’s as good as it is, but I think with this collection of talent she could do even better. I am well aware Sophocles hasn’t given her anything explicit to work with where it would most. For that reason, everyone has to work just that much harder. Electra contains a couple of the finest female roles in the history of drama, but it’s an exceedingly difficult play to contextualize for a modern audience. The entire Greek idea of justice as both human and divine are largely alien on the contemporary stage. The language is difficult. It takes a Herculean (Sophoclean?) effort to pull it all together. Give Ms. Perlot and her cast some time and it may happen yet.
Theater review: ‘Electra', dir. Rachel Perlot
By Yasmeen Busse The UW Daily
Adapting Greek tragedies can be tricky. Their influence is unquestionable, but perhaps public interest in them is not. They feel a bit like relics of the past, waiting to be excavated and cleaned up for modern audiences. The choice of the UW Undergraduate Theater Society (UTS) to put on Sophocles’ “Electra” for its first show of the season, with no remarkable updates, is a risky move that doesn’t entirely pay off.
“Electra” is a simple play about the nominal character’s desire to avenge her father, Agamemnon, who died at the hands of her mother, Clytemnestra. This Greek tragedy is an unusual choice for UTS, as it seems to lack the passion, complexity, and major bloodshed of better-known Sophocles pieces like “Oedipus Rex” and “Antigone.” While UTS’s production finds enough sensational family melodrama in its source material to whet the palate, it never fully satisfies.
The play opens with the secret return of Electra’s brother, Orestes, back from exile to avenge his father’s murder. As Orestes his revenge, Electra (Elex Hill) weeps and wails, mourning the loss of her father and damning her mother. The youthful Hill is fiery and passionate in her role, convincing the audience of her misery. Unfortunately, Electra seems to have but two emotions: anger and sadness. Her long-winded, hysteria-induced speeches lamenting the deceased Agamemnon and scorning her murderous mother that comprise the bulk of the play lack the nuance and emotional variance to sustain their effectiveness. Her incessant wailing — while faithful to the text — ultimately becomes tiresome.
Surprisingly, it is the supporting cast that adds depth to the play. Clytemnestra (Ai Nguyen) is cruel and cunning, but also displays fleeting moments of vulnerability, fearing her daughter’s dedication to avenge Agamemnon will end in her death. Chrysothemis (Victoria Kaetz), Electra’s obedient and impressionable sister, is sensitive, forgiving, and perhaps the most reasonable figure in the play. These characters do not develop extensively and are essentially tropes, but they offer nice contrast to the one-note Electra. Their stark differences add dimension and heighten the drama of the piece.
The set is minimalistic, with only glass bowls of flowers scattered on white marble steps, and an altar in the middle of the audience, where characters often go to pray to the gods. It feels exposed, allowing the intensity of Electra’s inner turmoil and her strained familial relationships to fill the space with tension. At a critical moment, the show redeems itself, and the question at the heart of the play is posed. To what lengths are we willing to go to exact revenge, and at what cost? It is in these last few minutes that Electra’s unshakable devotion to her father begins to waver, and she possibly begins to feel remorse as a consequence of her rage-fueled choices. It is a long overdue change in tone that, while dismal, is the highlight of the night.
Greek drama is still relevant, but it requires deft work to make that apparent. UTS’ “Electra” would have fared better with a more contemporary update, but its faithful rendition is an admirable effort that delivers enough drama to hold audiences over until the company’s next production.
The verdict: “Electra” emits sparks, but UTS needs to turn up the voltage.