Saturday, October 15, 2011

Theatre review: "Electra" at Pittsburgh Public Theater. Sunday, 9th October 2011

Electra. She strides the stage. She commands your attention. Every word she says, every gesture she makes exudes passion. She’s played at Pittsburgh Public Theater by Catherine Eaton. But she does not stand alone. She is surrounded by a vibrant cast full of equal urgency, equal energy, equal depth. Ted Pappas has placed them there. Ted Pappas has them move with primal meaning, speaking forcefully, clearly, definitively in this powerful version of the Sophocles play. Frank McGuiness adapted it, tightening it into an intense microcosm, whose energy burns up not so many minutes as you’d think, watching the inexorable hands of the clock. But within that flame, within that frame, everything happens that needs to happen.

The timeless Greek tragedy seethes with meaning while evoking the ritual that gave it birth. Pappas’ staging makes it so.

Electra vows revenge on her mother Clytemnestra and on her step-father Aegisthus. They murdered Electra’s father Agamemnon. But Electra has no power in that man’s world and yearns for her brother Orestes to return and kill them. More than that you need not know now. All will be revealed under the intense lights of the stage.

The dialogue, spoken forcefully, tells it all. This cast knows how to speak the speeches. Pappas knows how to bring that out. Pappas knows how to move these people in James Noone’s starkly evocative setting. Zach Moore’s choices of music and sound underscore it all with equal fervor.

Lisa Harrow surges forth but for a few intense minutes, her Clytemnestra clearly a woman who can kill, clearly a woman who knows what she is doing. No weakness shows. She could stand toe to toe with this daughter.

But when Orestes returns Clytemnestra is no match. When Orestes returns Electra knows the joy of anticipation even if he wavers for a time. Michael Simpson perfectly makes clear those shadows of doubt. And when the brother and sister re-unite their love lights up the darkness.

Witness too Edward James Hyland’s compelling, dynamic version of Orestes’ servant.

Meanwhile, in the center, Eaton glows with fire.

Electra. The classic lives.

It continues through October 30th at Pittsburgh Public Theater. 412/316-1600 or

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