nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 30, 2007
To an extent, Euripides made himself famous by questioning the gods' motives, and he passed this irreverence on to countless generations. For this reason watching a Euripides play is, in my opinion, always more interesting than watching those of his more respectful contemporaries such as Sophocles or Aeschylus. Similarly, watching a Charles Mee adaptation of classical Greek theatre is ten times more interesting than watching the original, particularly when he is produced by one of New York's most consistently intriguing production companies, the Immediate Theater Company.
Every single aspect of this production is very impressive—from the acting and directing to the sound and lights, everything clicks. Close attention is paid to the details. I was captivated from beginning to end. The production design is simple but very effective. The play is set in an asylum with two guys in hospital gowns seated in front of microphones and a third lying on a gurney with a mic dangling from the ceiling just above him. At the opening, Orestes is on a gurney centerstage with Electra seated at his side chain smoking. There is a mirror set above him that is tilted at an angle so we can see his face while he's lying down. There are also many other reflective domes like the ones used to cover security cameras placed all around. There is a table far right where the chorus of nurses hangs out under a green light.
Mark O'Maley's lighting design is beautiful. He uses a lot of side- and down-lighting, creating great shadows and a dark, mysterious atmosphere. He contrasts this atmosphere with stark fluorescent light to highlight the mood of other characters and scenes. Equally memorable is the sound design courtesy of Jeremy Wilson and director Jose Zayas. The music cues are dead-on with the action, sometimes coming in underneath the dialogue and at other times taking over with visceral rave beats contrasted with ambient house rhythm.
Playwright Charles Mee admittedly and unabashedly borrows text from a wide range of sources, including Guillaume Apollinaire, William S. Burroughs, and Soap Opera Digest. However, I would not describe his style as surreal but more like illusions of reality as filtered through pop culture (and Mee of course). But you won't sit through a Mee play not understanding what's going on. The themes he illuminates here are clear enough—should we blindly follow our leaders' laws or cultural laws or should we question them? The right thing to do is not always the popular thing to do and revenge is not always justice.
The two strongest aspects of this production are the directing and acting. Director Jose Zayas pours mood, passion, and insanity into every bit of the show. His actors appear inspired and stylistically they are all in line. The pace is enthralling, moving from high energy spread out all over the stage to dramatic pinpoint focus. Zayas handles the dual dialogue common in Mee plays very well. The movement is sometimes frenetic, sometimes choreographed and dancelike (with assistance from choreographer Silvia Sierra); while at other times there's no movement at all, just voice.
Bobby Moreno leads the cast as Orestes. Orestes is being pursued by the Furies in this play and Moreno portrays the ensuing insanity with extraordinary conviction. He never overplays the crazy but rather he fights it as if his character is trying to be well. Barrett Doss is stellar as his sister Electra. She has a great look for the role. The cast is very large and they all deserve a mention for a job very well done but I'd like to single out just a few others. Hugh Sinclair plays Tyndareus, Orestes's grandfather, and though he essentially has a single monologue, he is unforgettable in the role. Another character that delivers an impressive monologue is Paula Ehrenberg as Nurse 2. Also notable are the three men with microphones, Daniel Manley, David Myers, and Robert Fuller. The timing on their banter is fantastic.
This is great show. I highly recommend it to anyone. Well, maybe not kids. The Immediate Theater Company pays such close attention to every detail and I think they in turn deserve our attention. Check this one out.