Saturday, January 09, 2010

Electra - Seattle Shakespeare Company

Seattle Shakespeare Company
January 7-31 2010
Tickets and Information

In all times and places throughout history, vengeance has been and shall remain a central issue and topic of debate. How do we balance Justice with Vengeance? Which is which and how do we avoid getting lost in the grey area in between? Director Sheila Daniels tackles this rather personal struggle (as one can read in her director’s notes in the program) through Sophocles’ intensely cathartic play, Electra. Frank McGuinness’ 1998 adaptation of Sophocles’ ancient text brings the profound suffering of the characters to life through language that is both raw and lilting. Every member of the cast has great facility with McGuinness’ text, and Daniel’s direction keeps each word immediate while retaining the power of the poetical.

In playing the title character, Marya Sea Kaminski eliminates all conventional boundaries and tears through the text. Her passion becomes our catharsis as she takes the audience far beyond any comfort zone Seattle Shakes has provided in the past few months and brings forth a new beast of emotional rollercoastering to which most Seattle Theatre-goers are not yet accustomed. Orestes (Darragh Kennan), Electra’s brother who has been exiled since childhood, beautifully portrays his realization of the extent of the horror that his family has suffered while he has been raised so far away from it. Susannah Millonzi, as Electra’s sister Chrysothemis, is torn between her sister and the family that controls her and, in her struggle, brings the audience into the tempestuous pain that she feels. Also of note is John Bogar as Aegisthus, the despis├ęd and murdering king, whose stage time is perhaps four minutes at the most, and yet brings the audience to wish him dead within the first seconds of his entrance. Each member of the cast pours everything they have into this production; there is no weak link among them, and there is no emotional fourth wall to protect the audience from the truly Greek catharsis of this play.

Marya Sea Kaminski as Electra and Susannah Millonzi as Chrysothemis. Photo by John Ulman.

Every design element works in concert with Daniels’ directing to create a piece that feels modern while transcending any specific time period. Andrea Bryn Bush’s set, with its straight lines and chain-link fences, hints at majesty and ruthlessness not unfamiliar in our modern era of urban warfare and subversive tactics. Andrew D. Smith’s lighting design sculpts the space and the story, nearly a character of its own, as is Robertson Witmer’s sound, dissonant, chiming and thunderous. The costumes (Pete Rush) taste of ancient Greece from modern elements, and are tailored specifically to each character—for example, spotless and silky for the queen, but a dirty tank top and ripped skirt for Electra.

Electra is a story of revenge, suffering and triumph that could easily descend into melodrama, losing the honest characters within it. However, with McGuinness’ inspired adaptation, a cast of truly brilliant actors, and Daniels’ pitch perfect direction, this Electra hauls the audience through ninety non-stop minutes of tragedy at its best to the dramatic end and shows the humanity of the story all along the way.

Review by Kenna M. Kettrick and Andrew J. Perez

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