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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Electra by Elyse Sommer
As Kathryn Walker who directs and plays the ever lamenting Electra in the Music-Theatre Group's newly translated and highly accessible staged reading explains in her program notes: "Electra is above all a figure of lamentation." The three dramatized versions (the first by Aeschylus and the third by Euripides) have the same basic plot: Orestes has grown to manhood under the tutelage of Paedagogus. In Mycenae his sister Electra has been waiting for him to return to kill his mother Clymnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. Sophocles' focus is on Electra and her unswayable determination to avenge her father's murder. He downplays Clymenestra's legitimate grievance against the husband who sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia and ends with the chorus acclaiming Orestes' double murder in contract to Aeschylus who has Orestes pursued by the Furies for matricide.
Audiences have become increasingly accustomed to the staged reading format. Last season's high profile Salome, the Reading was a hot Broadway ticket and the docu-drama The Exonerated continues to draw Off-Broadway audiences ( Salome . . .The Exonerated). While neither staged readings of plays or concert versions of operas are unlikely to replace the pleasures of more spectacle rich productions, Kathryn Walker's astute staging of Electra (and I presume the same will be true for Medea) is ideally suited to Music-Theatre Group's limited performance schedule. It also gives audiences a chance to appreciate the flavor and richness of Ann Carson's translation.
The role of Electra has been a siren song for many great stars, the most recent and exciting version in my own memory being Zoe Wanamaker in Frank McGuiness' updated version that transferred from London to Broadway five years ago (my review). Ms. Walker's staging and performance is in its own way as electric.
Kate Burton brings her special gift for rendering classic characters with a down-to-earth credibility to the practical Chrysothemis, a fine counterpoint to the never ceasing intensity of her sister's lamentations. (I can visualize Burton bringing those same qualities to her Medea). Kristin Linklater is a commanding Clytemnestra.
Gerry Bamman, best known for his portrayal of Nixon in Nixon's Nixon, lends his booming voice to the small part of Paedagogus. But the play belongs to the women and that includes the three-member Chorus. Besides the excellence of their line delivery these women deserve a special endurance award since they are on stage for the entire intermissionless two hours -- something of an ordeal since this venue is unbearably hot and airless, without windows or an open door or ceiling fans to relieve the situation.
A screen with Greek images and shifting colors adds to the atmosphere. Even more so there's Robert Black's moody musical score performed by the composer-bassist.
Shakespeare & Company's actors and audiences now have a comfortable new home after suffering through wonderful performances in less than ideally comfortable setups like the old Stables Theatre. The Berkshire Theatre Festival's once oven-hot and claustrophobic second stage has been replaced by the jewel box Unicorn Theater. Here's hoping that Music-Theatre Group will be able to bring its always interesting productions to the more spacious and airy theater being built at Simon's Rock -- and to do so for a longer season.
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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