ELEKTRAFIRE - a modern rock opera
nytheatre.com review by Isaac Byrne
August 22, 2007
ELEKTRAFIRE is a modern rock opera written and produced by Doug Thoms with Live Stage Performance. The story is a dramatic one: to appease the gods and help his armies win the Trojan War, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigeneia. His wife Klytemnestra is upset by this and takes a lover, Aegisthus, while he's off at war. When he comes back, Klytemnestra and Aegisthus kill Agamemnon and send her son Orestes off to live in another kingdom. Daughter Elektra stays under her care, but waits for Orestes to return and then helps him kill Klytemnestra and Aegisthus.
Thoms has certainly made the story his own, paying homage to various earlier versions and adding little twists of his own. There are a few strands that seem unnecessary (is it really necessary or shocking to add more incest to a Greek tragedy?) and there are some added servant girl sections that seemed geared more to showing off the talents of the cast then advancing the story. But the songs in those sections are among the best in the show, so it's hard to begrudge them. The music is simple but catchy and the lyrics are straightforward but fun.
The cast is full of great singers, and Bridget Beirne as Elektra and Heidi Suhr as her sister, Chrysothemis, really get to show off their impressive pipes with the high-adrenaline score. The men don't have as much singing to do as the ladies, but they do get most of the comedic moments which they pull off with aplomb. Thoms plays Agamemnon with great gusto, and also plays guitar with the orchestra.
For all the good things about ELEKTRAFIRE, the show overall feels rough and unfocused. There seemed to be a rift in the performances and the style of the piece. The men all seemed to approach their roles with a heavy dose of camp and ironic humor. Kryst Hogan, as Klytemnestra, vamped it up in quite a few places but the rest of the women seemed like they were trying to play it fairly straight. It's hard to take any moments serious at all when actors are wearing plastic helmets and using plastic swords. The cast as a whole was seemingly unwilling to embrace the campiness of the piece, but really that fault lies with the direction. When I looked, I couldn't find anyone credited as the director in either the program or the press release.
Which seems a sad and grievous error, because ELEKTRAFIRE has a lot of great potential and a long list of impressive elements—there is plenty that almost succeeds, but fall flats ultimately. The costumes looked right but quite a few of those togas were, ahem¸ embarrassingly revealing and short. The sound was too loud, several people around me covering their ears, and the wireless mics were constantly giving off feedback when more than one actor was singing—which pretty much ruined most of the duets. The set and the staging often felt innovative and smart at first but almost always ended feeling unfinished and bland. A perfect example is the curtain call: the side curtain was pulled back and we got to see Agamemnon playing guitar with the band, and I immediately wished we could have seen the band the whole time. One of the most theatrically pleasing images of the show was hidden for 99% of the performance.