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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Truth be told, the Getty Villa _&mdash viewed from the forum style seating of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater &mdash _ has looked good for five consecutive end-of-summer performances. Classical Greek tragedies alternate with comedies, with well-known directors and artists brought in to mourn, keen or camp it up as the situation dictates.
A Fleishman performance tends to leave one wishing this could occur more frequently than once a year. On the other hand, God bless the Getty's presumably affluent Malibu neighbors for permitting the wails, applause and music one month out of the year. For Sophocles's Elektra, directed by Carey Perloff from a new translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker, we get music. We also get blood-chilling screams echoing from inside the palace. Of course, we know to what these screams portend.
The cycle of horror and bloodshed begun with the sacrifice of Iphigenia by King Agamemnon is drawing to a close. Agamemnon's Queen, Clytemnestra, has slain her husband, and now shares his bed with Aegisthus (Tyrees Allen). Elektra wants vengeance, but needs her banished brother Orestes either to spur her on or to complete the act. Orestes has been away so long, that it's doubtful that Elektra would even recognize him again if she saw him. Well, of course, he does return, and the cycle does move to completion, its inevitability as certain as the passing of time. Knowing what's coming (if not necessarily how) makes the experience no less impactful or dramatic.
Annie Purcell's Elektra, as filled with inner torment as, say, Hamlet, is a morass matted hair, sooty face and general grime. So immediate and unceasing is the character's pain that it feels like every fresh blow may zap the last iota of her sanity. This does not feel like an Elektra who, were she to get desperate enough, has the fortitude to pick up the knife herself. Scuttling around and stacking up rock piles in remembrances of her father is about all she can manage.
The costumes (designed by Candace Donnelly) are on the modern side with a nod to tunics and Wertenbaker's translation knocks some of the dust off what would be classically poetic lines. She also employs ancient Greek phrases and lamentations when grief proves overwhelming. Which, given the plight of vengeance-minded but powerless Elektra is often.
Cellist Theresa Wong provides the energetic and sometimes dirge-like music of composer Bonfire Madigan Shive. With Wong accompanying the Tutor's (Jack Willis's) fabricated account of the death of Orestes (Manoel Felciano) during a chariot race, the tale takes on a palpable excitement.
There is much that is exciting about this Elektra, from the wringer-like grief and near madness experienced by its titular heroine to the splendid work of Pamela Reed as an imperious and unapologetic (if still morally conflicted) Clytemnestra. The Tutor and Orestes somewhat excepted, the men have comparatively less space to occupy on Sophocles's canvass. This one's largely about the women, about those who wield power and those who are hamstrung because they lack it.
There's never too much one can do with a (non-singing) chorus, particularly one as tractable and uncomforting as this one, although having Olympia Dukakis (a frequent artist at Perloff-led ACT in San Francisco) makes even these interruptions welcome. In Dukakis's hands, this Chorus is an elderly woman, not unbowed, not worn down by a life of misery, but not a figure of much comfort either. It's a welcome site to get to watch Dukakis on a SoCal stage, as welcome as the news that she'll be back in 2011 to reprise her work in the two-hander Vigil that premiered in the Bay Area.
Felciano's Orestes has a couple of scenes to establish his character as an avenging hero before he has to move inside the palace and get down to business. The actual violence may take place off stage (In Greek tragedy, it almost always does), but between those screams and the reappearance of Orestes with bloody hands, face and corpse, the impact is no less significant. Indeed, as Orestes and the Tutor head back inside to commit one final necessary act of vengeance, Elektra is left alone with her mother's corpse to take in the enormity of what has occurred. Fittingly, she looks anything but relieved.