I’m as much of a language dork as the next, so I get that the appeal of Greek tragedy lies largely in its oft-haunting poetry, but I’ve gotta ask: If you must make one evening from Aeschylus’ three House of Atreus tragedies—and really, with Mourning Becomes Electra in the can, who’s forcing you?—then couldn’t you, pretty-please, dispense with the Iliad Without Pity recaps? And maybe some of the nontextual flourishes, too?
Actually I’m sure the good folk at Constellation Theatre have nipped and tucked their Robert Fagles translation. (Which, it’s worth noting, does have its moments.) Still, I remember hearing rather frequently about the grievances that fueled all that untidy parricide, and about the dreadful implications of what someone’s planning, or what someone’s just done, or what someone did in the previous play. (Sigh: If you must know, dad sacrifices daughter to make the storm quit, which annoys mom, who kills dad when he gets home from the Trojan War, which in turn annoys long-lost son, who kills mom and her new boyfriend, which annoys vengeful elemental beings wearing mud and feathers—at least that’s their wardrobe in this production. Somehow this leads to courts, and juries of peers, and the notion of the mistrial.)
Tom Teasley’s live percussion adds a certain tension, and there’s a distinct frisson each time Nanna Ingvarsson’s bloodthirsty Clytemnestra stalks onto A.J. Guban’s sprawling, raked amphitheater of a set. And certainly you’ve got to admire the chutzpah of a small company undertaking an epic with a cast of 29, even if you want to herd most of that 29 over a cliff when they set to chanting, for the umpty-fifth time, those goddamn koans about how badly things are going for the Atreus clan.
Did I mention there’s choreography? There’s choreography, in more than one instance. And on opening weekend, The Oresteia clocked in at rather more than the promised two hours and 45 minutes—a length at which, classic poetry and timeless tragedy and commendable chutzpah or no, any amount of languid choral dancing is too much.