Monday, April 6, 2009

An Oresteia


From the works of Aiskhylos, Sophokles, Euripides; translated by Anne Carson. Directed by Brian Kulick, Gisela Cardenas, Paul Lazar, and Annie-B Parson. Classic Stage Company. (CLOSED)

Poet Anne Carson's ambitious modern take on the House of Atreus, which mixes and matches Greek playwrights and directors to tell the tale, gets a respectful embrace from most critics. But the two-evening marathon gets such starkly divided reviews, we almost should grade the programs separately. Apart from a few who love the whole package, there are two camps: those who prefer Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas' relatively straightforward take on Agamemnon and Electra, and find Paul Lazar and Annie-B Parson's deconstructed Orestes to be a grab bag of postmodern tricks; and those who adore the playfulness and daring of Orestes and find the Kulick/Cardenas program dully dutiful. Accordingly, most critics also differ on whether it's best to take it all in as a five-hour one-day marathon, over two nights--or in just one evening that skips the program they don't like.

New York A+
(Scott Brown) Something bloody beautiful is going on over at Classic Stage, under the poker-faced, take-it-or-leave-it title An Oresteia. You should take it. Poet-classicist Anne Carson, a pedigreed academic with a barroom wit, has produced crisp, insouciant new translations of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Sophocles’s Elektra, and Euripides’s Orestes, where relaxed-fit colloquialisms hang smartly on all that fine old marble...Carson’s not afraid to hock a B-movie loogie on the Venus de Milo, if need be. Directors Brian Kulick, Gisela Cardenas, Paul Lazar, and Annie-B Parson...have divided the poet’s feast into two nights of blood-pounding theater...Flawlessly staged, impudent to the last, An Oresteia is the Oresteia for this moment: enraged, engorged, amused. A
(Robert Weinstein) Perfectly explores the holy mess infecting this accursed family tree. It consists of three plays written by three of the major Greek playwrights and all are translated by poet Anne Carson...Directors Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas do an expert job of exposing the tragic ways in which the various uses and definitions of Justice can dilute its meeting. Everyone gains so little by achieving it—and in such grotesque fashion—that you begin to wonder if it's really such a good thing in the first place...The third and final piece, Euripides's Orestes, acts as a coda to other pieces and the tone shifts dramatically from the previous two acts...Is there resolution? Not really, which is what makes An Oresteia such a remarkable piece.

TheatreScene A
(Deirdre Donovan) If you don’t mind your Greek drama being fiddled with, then The Classic Stage Company’s production of An Oresteia is a gift from the theater gods. With Anne Carson’s au courant translation, the trio of plays...takes on vivacious new life and pertinence...The total effect is exhilarating...In spite of the sometimes flippant language in Carson’s translation, the innovations of staging, and the hip modern dress (Oana Botez-Ban), the trio of plays in An Oresteia is Greek to the core. It forces us to accept the tragic destiny of the characters, and say like the ancients once did: It must be so.

New Yorker A-
Brilliant...“Orestes,” the most difficult of the three plays, isn’t helped by a staging that offers more in the way of gimmick—pointless dance, arbitrary props—than illumination. Nonetheless, the complete trilogy richly repays the commitment that, at four and a half hours, it requires.

Backstage B+
(Lisa Jo Sagolla) Comprises a spellbinding production of Aiskhylos' Agamemnon, an intoxicating rendition of Sophokles' Elektra, and an uninspired postmodern interpretation of Euripides' Orestes...Whereas the writers' contrasting viewpoints bring a richness of insight to the tale's timeless themes of revenge, betrayal, war, and injustice, the opposing directorial styles compromise the work's overall dramatic impact. Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas direct Agamemnon and Elektra with a piercing intensity; crisp, dynamic staging; and lots of blood and muck, which viscerally magnifies the plays' horrific scenarios...Orestes, on the other hand, is directed by Paul Lazar with a quiet absurdist sensibility that weakens our emotional investment in the characters and undermines the sweeping arcs of the narrative...The lifeblood that surges throughout An Oresteia, however, is poet Anne Carson's scintillating translation of these Greek classics. This show sounds nothing like those stodgy playscripts you read in high school drama class. Carson's vibrant, saber-witted, ultramodern language makes ancient intrigues sparkle with contemporary relevance.

Lighting & Sound America B
(David Barbour) It's a big, bold concept--only partially successful, yet fascinating in its reach. It's impossible to leave the theatre without a handful of vivid memories...Anne Carson, the translator, has mixed and matched her classics, offering Aeschlylus' Agamemnon, Sophocles' Elektra, and Euripides' Orestes. The first two, despite some eccentric directorial touches, are Greek tragedy, served straight up; the third piece, informed by an irony so bitter it verges on disgust, may come as something of a shock. The plays show how the Greeks' attitudes about tragedy evolved over several decades...At its best, this tale of interlocking revenge plots, the ruin of a nation, and the descent of an empire into decadence has an alarming relevance for 21st-century American audiences. At its wobbliest moments -- and there are many -- it's rather like changing television channels, lurching from one tone to another with no warning. Overall, An Oresteia is more interesting as a concept than a fully realized dramatic entity -- which is not to say that there aren't plenty of striking moments.

CurtainUp B
(Elyse Sommer) As new as it's old. Whether new is better is likely to be the subject of many a post show discussion...While there's plenty of heightened language, the dialogue in this translation has a distinctly modern, often trendy, flavor. Carson deliberately blurs the metaphorical and the literal...While opinions may vary about the more jargon-y elements of Carson's translation, there's no question that it has given Classic Stage an opportunity to create quite a theatrical event. The triptych has been divided into two parts, so that it can be seen on two separate occasions or in one session with two intermissions. Riccardo Hernandez has created a highly dramatic blood-spattered upstage wall with a doorway and sliding panels to visually connect the multi-authored trilogy.

Variety B-
(Sam Thielman) Co-directors Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas' straightforward productions of "Agamemnon" and "Elektra" are engaging enough, with solid perfs and a fascinating new translation by Anne Carson. But Paul Lazar's "Orestes" is...weighed down with gimmicks stolen from much better downtown theater companies...The actors don't stop viewpointing long enough to communicate their lines effectively, roughly half the characters are in distracting drag with no justification given or suggested, and occasionally the gesticulating actually becomes full-fledged, annoyingly stylized dance...Ultimately, the most redeeming thing about "An Oresteia" is that its two parts are ticketed separately, and all the interesting, which is to say coherent, work is in the first part.

Village Voice C+
(Alexis Soloski) An Oresteia's first two plays, both directed by Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas, provide ample opportunity for the mind to wander toward such sanitary concerns. On Riccardo Hernandez's unsightly set (a wall of blood-stained plywood), all the expected tragic action takes place...The plays fall prey to staging accidents and strange directorial choices: Doors won't open or won't stay closed; lanterns don't descend; actresses trip on their dresses. The chorus tears through the text as they wearily accomplish stage business...Though she's a remarkable writer, Carson shoulders some of the blame. Aiskhylos is credited with inventing a regal, austere style and Sophokles with sweetening it, but Carson favors the colloquial over the magisterial...Theater lovers might settle for seeing only the final show, Euripides' Orestes...It's antic instead of stately, bizarre in its characterizations and plotting...intensely playful.

Theatermania C+
(Dan Balcazo) An ambitious reconfiguration of this classic Greek tale of betrayal and revenge...While the project is both intriguing and worthwhile, CSC's execution is only partially successful. The major problem besetting the production is immediately apparent as soon as you enter the theater and see Riccardo Hernandez's impractical set...However, the set is not the only obstacle to this endeavor...The handling of the text in both these plays is often heavy-handed, with several of the actors giving overly emotive speeches without connecting to the material.

New York Times C+
(Claudia La Rocco) [Carson's] muscular reimagining removes these ancient classics from their dusty pedestals and allows their savage, glittering contents (and malcontents) to breathe...But alas: Mr. Kulick...along with his co-director, Gisela Cardenas, has made a hash of them — how much so, you don’t fully grasp until you get to “Orestes,” directed by Paul Lazar, with Annie-B Parson its associate director and choreographer. (It runs on alternate nights, or as part of weekend marathons of the entire trilogy). Here is a marvel of a high-wire act, fearless and joyful in all the ways that the first two productions are timid and flat...The theatrical stakes are high when the starting point is Ms. Carson’s virtuosic translation. Words this potently, violently alive, and this searing in their register shifts, need to be met with a certain amount of daring and dexterity. But Mr. Kulick and Ms. Cardenas, often aided by their actors, mostly go for the obvious, clunky choices, including the gratingly overwrought delivery of lines, a dull straining after importance...Even in less obvious moments, “Orestes” hums with physical assuredness, in keeping with a confidence of purpose.

Time Out NY D
(Andy Propst) A wildly uneven marathon of three Greek plays from different eras, which uses Anne Carson's unmelodic translation. Riccardo Hernandez's ill-conceived set obstructs theatergoers' views for large portions of the first piece, Agamemnon, but that's a plus: They're spared watching a blood-smeared Stephanie Roth Haberle, playing Klytaimnestra (pretentious spellings abound), wield an ax and channel Jack Nicholson circa The Shining after she's killed the title character (Steve Mellor as a puffed-up politico) and his lover-slave Kassandra (Doan Ly). In Elektra (directed, like the previous production, by Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas), a three-person chorus minces onstage, dressed like beachgoing 1950s jet-setters...Although Paul Lazar's minimalist staging of the final play proves insightful, it's too little too late in this bewildering and butt-numbing ordeal.

New York A+ 14; A 13; TheatreScene A 13; New Yorker A- 12; Backstage B+ 11; Lighting & Sound America B 10; CurtainUp B 10; Variety B- 9; VV C+ 8; NYT C= 8; Theatermania C+ 8; TONY D 4; TOTAL: 120/12=10 (B)

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