nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
April 16, 2005
Euripides is often considered the post-modernist of ancient Greece, a genre buster who combined tragedy, comedy, and ironic self-awareness to create something fresh. In a bow to that, the Polish company Gardzienice uses Euripides as a character, bringing him onstage at the top of their Elektra. Then all self-awareness is lost as they hurdle into bacchanal, creating a cathedral of energy that is decidedly pre-modern. The play is performed alternately in English, Polish, and ancient Greek, and the group also works with a vocabulary of gestures they call cheironomoia. The gestures for this piece are taken from every illustrated source on Hellenism imaginable—ancient vases, stone carvings, statues, friezes. The company also has a series of their own gestures, evoking archetypes such as mother, wife, father, man, and woman. Music is created from fragments of Euripides's original scores, and uses sound in all sorts of surprising ways. Sometimes two people singing put their mouths very close together, causing the sound to amplify and echo, and at one point Electra is trapped between two long horns that blow into her ears.
Unfortunately, the self-awareness reemerges and, as the appearance of Euripides suggests, Elektra is a deconstruction. The play is described as a “theatrical essay” and is divided into three parts (Mysteries/A Lecture/ A Spectacle) which comprise a total of twenty nine scenes, each described in detail in the program. “Mysteries” is a blitz of spectacle and sensation. “Lecture” is an explanation of their source material as well as the techniques they are using in performance. But by the third section things lose their center and become a chaos of noise, masks, and costumes. Gardzienice creates a powerful world, breaks it, gives us information, and asks us to reenter the world armed with that information. But partly because the production is in three languages, it is incredibly difficult to engage intellectually with the piece. Once the emotional tie is broken, it becomes more difficult, not less, to focus on the issues of gender that the piece seems eager to illuminate.
However, Gardzienice is up to the physical and emotional demands of performing these ancient texts, and there are some extraordinary scenes. Three that haunt are Electra’s rape scene, a scene where Electra breastfeeds Orestes as she convinces him to kill Clytemnestra, and an argument between Clytemnestra and Electra. And there are striking isolated images, like men holding masks in front of their genitals, a dancing woman in a mask with red veil over it, and a ninja girl with a fan that makes a gunshot sound.
The character Euripides ends the production. He wears a mask on his face and masks like scabs all over his robe, and the other actors pull the masks off him until his robe is torn away as well, leaving him naked and cowed. Because Gardzienice is able to stretch the boundaries of the everyday and showed us extremes of emotion we may never feel, it was that much more frustrating that I had to cross reference my experience with my program.