United Players of Vancouver
Jericho Arts Centre
1675 Discovery Street & N.W. Marine Drive
June 5 - June 28, 8:00pm
Information & Tickets: 224-2464
GREEK TRAGEDY STILL HOLDS MEANING FOR TODAY
By Roxanne Davies
Long, long before talk TV gurus Jerry Springer and Oprah Winfrey began hosting shows where victims share their highly emotional stories of trauma and tragedy, Greek dramatists were masterfully creating spectacles that taught individuals to plumb the depths of the human soul.
And no Greek play does such a good job of uncovering the motivating forces of human behavior than Sophocles' Electra. In fact, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung originated the term "Electra complex" to describe a girl's excessive love for her father and corresponding hostility toward her mother. Talk about the proverbial dysfunctional family!
Sophocles, one of the three famous Greek writers of tragedy (Euripides and Aeschylus being the other two) told stories of individual struggle against fate. In most of his plays, the individual often chooses a course of action that the chorus and the other characters do not support. Yet somehow this suffering leaves the individual even nobler.
In Greek mythology, Electra was famous for her loyalty to her father, the Greek leader Agamemnon. Clytemnestra, who was Electra's mother and Clytemnestra's lover, Aegisthus, murdered Agamemnon. Electra sends for Orestes, her younger brother, from the royal palace to protect him from Clytemnestra. She then plots her revenge against her mother.
It was a brave choice on the part of the United Players of Vancouver to stage this Greek tragedy. Yet their decision has paid off and what we get is an electrifying production with excellent performances, clever stagecraft, and masterful pacing that leads inexorably to the tragic denouement. Call it the Titanic factor. We know the ending yet are compelled to watch it happen.
The starkly evocative set design lends itself admirably to the drama's action. The actors run up elevated ramps or spill over to use the area in front of the stage, bringing the action front and centre of the audience.
The story is told through the mind of Electra and the stage is peopled with elements from her memory and the terrors of her psyche made manifest in the form of furies and Gods.
Monique Laaper stars in the lead as Electra. On stage during the entire production, she carries the story through consciousness and action. Railing against the fate that has robbed her of her beloved father, Electra plots her revenge. We follow her through her descent into madness, tormented by the furies that swarm around her. The voices that haunt her from the recesses of her mind come from various areas of the theatre to great effect.
The seven furies act out the dialogue, constantly moving and gyrating in mesmerizing movements choreographed by Joshanna Craig. Director David C. Jones has paced this play with a speed and sureness that does not abate from beginning to end. When Electra relates her mother's crimes, Clytemnestra, played by Joan Bryans, stands in profile on an upper ramp, her bearing that of a Queen who feels no remorse for her actions. How can a mother hate her own child? she cries. She does not suspect the actions that will befall her. Yet we the audience do know and this adds to the heightened anticipation of the tragic climax.
Andrew Litten as Orestes, the brother, plays the role with enthusiasm and animation, although his sometimes speedy delivery of lines lacks in clearer enunciation. The murder scene is effectively portrayed through the use of bold colors and off stage action that leaves room for the imagination to fill in the rest of the brutality.
Dr Tony Podlecki tells us that one very good reason for today's revival of interest in the ancient Greeks is that they have so much to tell us, mainly about ourselves. Since the Greeks didn't go in for revealed religion or sacred scripture of any kind, they decided their approach had to be one of "do it yourself" whereby we must try to find out who we are and how we ought to behave towards each other by looking inside ourselves and analyzing our own nature as human beings.
Not too far off from what Springer and Winfrey are trying to do in a rather pedestrian and simplistic way with Talk TV. After seeing this production of Electra, it remains obvious that reading Greek mythology will long remain, teaching us about toughness of spirit and the unwillingness to let ourselves be victims forever.
Copyright 1998 Roxanne Davies