Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Oresteia

On Sunday, I saw the final showing of Anne Carson's An Oresteia at the Classic Stage Company. It was a marathon staging of Carson's translations of three plays by three writers, Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, Sophocles’s Electra, Euripides's Orestes, which take 5 hours to show together, in this staging.

I hadn't seen any Greek theatre since a particularly bad experience with Electra, put on at La Mama by the Gardzienice Center for Theatre Practices in 2005. However, after reading the Oresteia at Oxford (only the plays by Aeschylus, and only the translation by Richard Lattimore), I fell pretty hard in love with the trio, and since I like Anne Carson quite a bit, I was excited at the prospect of seeing it live. A shame it didn't turn out better.

Carson's translation was better for the stage than I expected, given its modernization. I thought the plot would be very easy for someone to understand, even if they hadn't read the plays before (unlike my first experience with Electra, which was basically impossible to understand, even though I already knew the story. Now, by complaining, I'm worried I sound like Kate Ahlborn). However, it is definitely too modern, particularly for reading. I'd be interested to take a look at Ted Hughes's translation (a poet I love far, far more than Anne Carson), and Robert Lowell's (ditto). If anyone has read either, please comment!

When I walked in, I felt as though I was back at La Mama. Extras were hanging from the ceiling, painting blood onto the backdrop and mopping it onto the floor, and I was in a seat so bad it had a screen. The actual show started out well (given that you weren't in the wings, which have a blocked view for the first 28 minutes of the show. Seriously. Luckily, I was moved to the main audience section.), and I definitely liked their version of Agamemnon (is it a coincidence it was the only one by Aeschuylus?), which was well-acted and had some deliciously creepy moments. The second play was alright, but decidedly not as good as the first, except that Mickey Solis had a bigger part, and he was either really good at acting or really looked like Freddy Prinze Jr., and for one or both of these reasons, I liked him a lot. The third part of the play was horrific. It somehow turned from a pretty serious and well-done piece into some bizarre Sarah Lawrencesque experimental theatre peice complete with a jazz singing Electra and a cross-dressing Helen. I probably wouldn't have left if I could, because the story is just so damned good (who loves Greek family drama? Kristin does.), but the staging was so awful I considered it even though doing so would have forced me to walk almost onto the stage.

I wouldn't recommend either the translation or the CSC staging (lucky you can't go!), but I would definitely recommend picking up the Oresteia (go with Aeschylus's version), because it's a damned good story.

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