nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 21, 2005
There are places where one can go and see classical theatre untouched and performed in a manner as close to what was originally intended as is possible. But for me, especially if I’ve seen a show in its "original" state, I prefer to see what a new production will do with it. I want to see what might be wrought from the text that I may not have seen or thought about. If you feel the same way, then the Vortex Theater Company’s production of Agamemnon is not to be missed.
Aeschylus’s classic tale of revenge is boiled down like a chicken stock which is then used to create a tasty stew by tossing in a little Shakespeare, a dash of Dante, a splash of video game lingo, and a whole lot of cooking recipes. There’s also a healthy hunk of a speech on the six steps for ritual slaughter of animals stirred in. This added some strong flavor. And for dessert, well there’s lots of eye candy throughout. It’s all very postmodern and oh so experimental.
Here’s a quick run down of the plot of Agamemnon just so we're all on the same page. After ten years of laying siege to Troy, Agamemnon is finally returning home victorious to his angry and unfaithful wife Clytemnestra. Before launching this expedition, Agamemnon sacrificed their oldest child, Iphigenia, in order to bring favorable winds to the Greeks' sails. Clytemnestra is still a little peeved about that and has been planning her revenge along with her lover (and Agamemnon’s greatest enemy) Aegistus. Their plan: serve Agamemnon to his guests at a banquet honoring his return. Sounds yummy! Unknown to Clytemnestra, Agamemnon has brought back a slave girl for himself named Cassandra. Cassandra is cursed with the gift of prophecy only to have no one ever believe her. So as it turns out that there will be an extra main course. The more the merrier.
Not only does this stew have lot of different text ingredients tossed together, it's also somewhat of a stylistic compote. The furies are mostly represented by wiry dog puppets (designed by Andrea Gastelum), though their operators eventually emerge as the furies themselves. There are a couple of short slide shows and a chorus of chefs with some wild choreography. The acting, for the most part, is on a higher plane of hyper-reality, with possibly the exception of the Head Chef/Herald (played brilliantly by David Arkema) who could easily be mistaken for a real chef.
The ensemble is rather large due to the ever-present chorus, but it is as tight as can be thanks to the sharp direction of Gisela Cardenas. Cardenas brings a clear vision to the show. She certainly achieves her goal to link the process of cooking with human lust for power. Cardenas puts her actors through a solid physical workout and the effect is visually stunning. There is moment, for example, when the entire chorus piles on top of the King’s Messenger, only to be tossed aside like pillows when he bursts forth.
The Messenger segment was one of my favorite courses of the delicious meal. Played with intensity and turbulence by Seth Powers (who also plays Aegistus with sarcastic arrogance), this segment featuring the soldier returning home from the front is especially poignant in these days of the lingering war in Iraq. Linda Clark, who some may know from the most recently defunct Star Trek franchise, is phenomenal as Clytemnestra. She holds a knife behind every line. Jonathan Co Green plays Agamemnon commendably. His rigid and broken body from a decade of war tells all. Catherine Friesen fully embodies the pain and confusion of Cassandra. She also appears briefly as Iphigenia and Elektra. I wasn’t quite sure why Elektra comes on in the very beginning wearing thigh-highs and a mini skirt but I can’t say that I objected.
Hats off to Oana Botez-Ban for the excellent costume design. Clytemnestra changes several times, each time matching the occasion perfectly. When her husband returns she wears a lovely wrappy-sarongy-thing that she lays down before him as a sort of red carpet, while she's still wearing it. After he’s dead she wears pants and a tie. The soldier’s uniforms are grungy and muddy while the chef’s uniforms are pristine white with bright orange aprons. Lucrecia Briceno designs a dazzling light motif. Everything is low-lit with colored cross lights and each chorus member has his or her own pole lamp which they use to throw emphasis here and there.
There is so much more I could say about this show. It’s a great production and/or a tasty dish. One note: eat before you go. They've come up with the tantalizing idea to have onions, garlic, and basil slowly cooking the whole time just to put the smell of the show’s concept in the air.