nytheatre.com review by Joe Pindelski
November 8, 2008
Personally, I was excited to see Wide Eyed Productions was producing Phedre at Access Theater. Jean Racine's 1677 drama, considered to be his masterpiece, delves into the human psyche in a way that contemporaneous works did not. Love is a curse brought on by the gods and it is in dealing with love that the characters either damn or redeem themselves. Racine combines myth and legend in a way that gives theatre-makers an opportunity to be hugely creative.
So, I have to say I was impressed. Aubrey Snowden, trained in dance and having studied with the SITI Company, makes good use of the theatrical potential Racine gives her. Snowden has added movement sequences and vocal underscoring at certain "divine" moments to give the production a refreshing theatrical magic that is sadly lacking in many plays today. However, her concept for the production seems to be working against her.
Snowden has shaped her production around the notion that celebrities are now our nobility. It's an interesting idea. We all have our own screen idols that we look up to, and to whom we pay special attention. Snowden, though, then focuses the production on the hysteric stories of celebrity in the tabloid news. This is my main problem with the production. It's fine to update a classical text, but you have to be careful that in the updating you don't strip away the substance. In this production, Phedre's (Kym Smith) incestuous love for her stepson, Hippolytus (Jake Paque), is presented to us as juicy gossip and not elevated to tragedy. Likewise, Hippolytus's forbidden love for the exiled Aricia (Genevieve Gearhart) is less about transgressing the law and family and more about petulance. The scandal is there, but the conflicts of duty and morality are not as apparent.
Watching this production, it seems that Phedre is more crazed than cursed, Hippolytus is better suited for Goodfellas than French tragedy, and Vanessa Giben's Oenone is a nagging personal assistant rather than a driven caretaker. The characters, especially Aricia, have their sense of self-importance stripped away. Additionally, they aren't working under the thumb of some authority or god; they are just fighting with each other. In short, they aren't tragic, they are just unfortunate.
Sadly, the production's framing of celebrity becomes less apparent as the production wears on, as does its use of mixed media, which is smartly incorporated at the production's beginning. This is not to say the production is without talent. The cast is capable, but appears out of their element. They seem better suited for contemporary drama. As for the creativity, Snowden is greatly aided by Eleni Koutsouradis's stage dressing and Joe Novak's creative lighting. The design is compact, clean, and smart. It is obvious that this small company doesn't have a lot of money, but they use it with great elegance.
All in all, this Phedre is not a triumph for Wide Eyed Productions. Throughout its one hour and 45 minute run (without intermission), some glimpses of real talent and potential shine through; but, overall, the tragedy of the production is that there is no tragedy.