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LA Theater Review

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Writer-director Katharine Noon uses Aeschylus' Agamemnon trilogy as her template for an updated, revisionist version of the Greek classic, spread over two productions and, like the original, consisting of three linked episodes, named after the principal character in each: Clytemnestra, Elektra, and Orestes.
In Part One, Queen Clytemnestra (Trace Turville) is devastated by grief and rage because King Agamemnon (Ronnie Clark), off fighting the Trojan War, has sacrificed her beloved daughter Iphigenia as a political gesture. When he returns home in triumph, she cuts his throat with the knife he used to dispatch Iphigenia. The Greek chorus is transformed into the bossy and bibulous members of Clytemnestra's bridge club (Madelynn Fattibene, JoAnna Senatore, and Sarah Broyles). Athena (Christel Joy Johnson) and Apollo (Ronald Wingate) are meddlesome political fixers rather than gods, and Clytemnestra's household includes her niece Hermione (Brian Weir), the daughter of Helen of Troy, and in some respects Noon's most successful character. Hermione threads through all three plays, binding them together and providing continuity.
Part Two includes Elektra and Orestes. In the first, Elektra (Mandy Freund) takes center stage, raging against Clytemnestra (now played by Johnson) for murdering her father, and nursing hopes that her brother Orestes (Clark) will return to avenge their father's death. At the urging of Apollo, Orestes comes back and kills the queen. In Orestes, things get murky. The title character is riddled with guilt over murdering his mom, and the bridge-club ladies return as avenging Furies out to destroy him. Elektra (now played by Johnson) has become a passive sidekick to Orestes, who urges her to join him in a suicide pact.
Noon is a clever playwright and skillful director, and there are effective scenes and solid performances throughout, but the ancient plot doesn't always jibe with modern times. In Aeschylus, the great debate at the end is a confrontation between primal forces, with the Furies representing the old matriarchal gods who insist on the sacredness of motherhood, while Apollo represents the rising patriarchy, demanding revenge for the father's murder. With the Furies reduced to club ladies, a spineless Orestes, and the gods mere political operatives, the cosmic battle is reduced to bickering. And Noon's casting is not always helpful. Turville and Johnson are effective, in very different ways, as Clytemnestra. Freund is a wonderfully feisty Elektra; but as played by Johnson in the third play, Elektra seems a totally different character. Clark is a tormented Agamemnon and a tortured Orestes. But the most successful performance (perhaps because the actor is allowed to play one role throughout) is Weir as Hermione. It's cross-gender casting, but Weir plays it straight, with no hint of camp, and proves both arresting and sympathetic. The play emerges as an intriguing experiment, if not always a satisfying one.

Presented by the Ghost Road Company in cooperation with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission/Ford Theatres at [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. March 26-May 3. Repertory schedule. (323) 461-3673.

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