Sunday, February 7, 2010


The other evening I had a queue of music on from the late romantic era; all lovely, lush, like a warm bath. Very nice. For whatever reason I'd capped off the queue with some Handel. And the moment the baroque came on it was like a breath of fresh air; invigorating, muscular, strong, straightforward stuff, and I perked right up. Wonderful.

I feel that way about Seattle Shakespeare's production of Electra. No complaints about the theatre we've been seeing lately. Lots of well-done stuff, some experimental, some feel-good, some fun stuff. But Electra was a bracing eighty minutes of breathtaking theatre. The Greeks didn't mess around, nor for that matter did Frank McGuinness in his adaptation. They got right down to business.

I'm not sure I moved during the whole uninterrupted play. By the end I had to just sit for a minute. The rest of the audience did too. I'm quite sure it was one of the actors who signaled the end of the play by clapping, as we sat sort of stunned in the darkness.

Electra's is a timeless theme, about the next generation's disappointment in and disgust with their parents. And their idealization and idolization of their parents. The kids are righteous and they take it upon themselves to work justice and then find out it's a pretty messy business, and they just might have some explaining to do to their children later on. There's a lot in common between Greek tragedy and the best episodes of The Sopranos.

Frank McGuinness's language is lovely and, yes, musical. Director Sheila Daniels complements it with judicious use of dissonant music throughout. The language is by turns lyrical, bombastic, with crescendos, silences, wailing, discord, movement, and finally resolution. Favorite line: "Your mother will no longer displease you."

OK, kids, now what?

Ritual and movement were beautifully choreographed throughout on a spare set with chain link fencing. For instance, at the moment Orestes kills Aegisthus, Electra splashes water over herself, and in that instant the wall behind her is splashed with blood.

There wasn't a weak link in the cast, but it is Marya Sea Kaminski's show in the titular role. She is fierce, and leaves all her blood and guts on the stage. An extraordinary performance. (That's Kaminski in the John Ulman photo at right.) Susannah Millonzi's performance as sister Chrysothemis is equal to Kaminski and their arguments give off sparks. Todd Jefferson Moore is perfectly grounded as the faithful servant and touches lightly and smoothly on what very, very little levity the play has.

This play messes with all kinds of expectations we have of theater in this day and age. It's an old play. Its assumptions and pace are very different from what is usually produced today. But it has its own internal logic and structure that is utterly convincing, inevitable, and beautiful. Sheila Daniels' production was note-perfect.

p.s. Wouldn't you be sort of curious to go back in time and meet Sophocles' mother? She must have been one hell of a piece of work.

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