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LETTERS TO EDITOR
|A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By Jana Monji
Scattered logs askew and a dusty, dark floor with large red splatters prepare us for the grimness of vengeance murders. This isn't going to be a pretty play, but in A Noise Within's almost all-male presentation of Euripides' Electra, even the star isn't pretty. No seductive measures attempt to feminize Donald Sage Mackay as Electra.
Costumed by Yevgenia Nayberg in a strapless light-colored frock and utilitarian black boots, Mackay's broad, well-muscled shoulders proclaim he is a man and no padding of parts attempts to mislead us. Under the direction of Sabin Epstein, Mackay expresses womanly weakness with knitted brow and wringing hands. As Electra's brother, Orestes, Stephen Rockwell, has nearly the same physical dimensions. Electra's frailty as a woman is only suggested in one way—his naked shoulders in contrast to the well-covered men.
Mackay's form doesn't intimate the precariousness of a young girl offered to an adult shepherd (Richard Soto) as wife. Thus, the gentleness of the shepherd's chaste protection becomes only words that hit the air because nothing convinces the eyes.
The exception to the all-male cast is one young girl (Alexandra De Liso Smith) who is dressed similarly to Mackay's Electra. Without Smith, the suggestion of girlish fragility amongst the rough and tumble world of warring men would be lost in this production. Surrounded by men in grayish cloaks, she brings a sense of quavering youth on the threshold of hope and horror that MacKay cannot physically suggest.
As Clytemnestra, Francois Giroday is regally disdainful. To the modern ear, her unfaithfulness seems more justifiable. Didn't her husband desert her for a decade? Didn't he lie to her so that he could sacrifice their daughter? Didn't he bring back young, nubile slaves, including Cassandra? Yet the confrontation between Giroday's imperious queen and MacKay's angry virgin fails to ignite, making this familial implosion disappointing. MacKay's Electra seems no match for Giroday's Clytemnestra and Mackay's transition from virginal, woeful maid to hard-hearted avenger of her father's death is almost too abrupt.
Even without the convincing physical casting, however, the words do portray a more universal appeal of siblings—one weak and one strong. Supporting each other, they move toward an act of violence that they as the moral center, the puppets of the gods, will regret but be eventually exonerated of guilt. If only we could have the comfort of blaming gods and oracles how much easier life would be.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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