Oresteia – Modern Twist on a Greek Tragedy

This may be your last chance to bear witness to a new adaptation of The Orestia, a trilogy of plays by Aeschylus which won him the Best Play Award In Athens in 458 B.C. at the Dinoysia festival. The plays are based on events that purportedly occurred about 700 years earlier and are generally ascribed to the status of “myths,” a status that serves to augment their profound influence on all subsequent Western drama and the inherent nature of tragedy.

The three plays: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenidesare brilliantly condensed and revitalized by director and playwright Robert Icke who also directed the brilliant Hamlet now running in repertory with this at the Park Avenue Armory through August 13.

Anastasia Hille and Angus Wright

Aeschylus wove the myths of the House of Atreus and the Trojan Wars into his Orestia, as Homer did in his Iliad and Odyssey, as Sophocles did Euripides. Today, in true “Bard” fashion, Icke has envisioned these plays, revitalizing them with scenes from his own imagination written in a contemporary style. It’s filled with fresh insights, succinct poetry, and brilliant playwriting.

Anastasia Hille

In the Act I scene between Agamemnon (Angus Wright) and Clytemnestra (Anastasia Hille), she forces him to admit his intention to sacrifice their young daughter, Iphigenia (Elyana Faith Randolph), in order to appease Artemis. The goddess will then unleash vital winds carrying his thousand ships to reclaim his brother’s abducted wife Helen and uphold the honor of the kingdom. “By his hand alone. The child is the price. Fair winds,” the prophet Calchus declares. A sealed message to Agamemnon arrives. In red letters, the note reads: CHILD KILLER. It’s viscerally acted.

Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus (Peter Wright) convinces him that painless drugs will “ease” Iphigenia’s death. If the war is lost, he continues, she would be enslaved the rest of her life. Agamemnon resignedly agrees. Clytemnestra begs on her knees. The scene descends into a nasty physical fight between them. The administering of drugs, inexorable infanticide is shown on a video screen. “I got it wrong! I was wrong!” the king cries out.

Anastasia Hille and Luke Treadaway

Triumphantly returning from war, Agamemnon is stabbed to death by his inconsolable wife. Their son Orestes (Luke Treadaway), already traumatized, confronts his mother with the murder. She tells him it was justified. He slaughters her. Orestes is then tried for matricide. Athene (Hara Yannas), the patron goddess of Athens, casts the deciding vote freeing the young man. “But I still killed her…Perhaps  will always feel guilty. What do I do?! What do I do?” he cries. Blackout.

Robert Icke’s adaptation and direction are a theatrical feast. Acting, exceptional throughout, is spearheaded by Anastasia Hille and Angus Wright who both challenged and supported each other. Ensemble work is immediate, and fresh, committed to the moment. Bravo!

Wesley Holloway, Anastasia Hille, Angus Wright,Elyana Faith Randolph,and Luke Treadaway

The set (Hildegarde Bechtler) is brilliant; magisterial and strangely austere with stylish modern components and four well placed columns evoking underlying “antiquity.” The designer’s costumes are a seamless part of each character.

Natasha Chivers lighting defined the huge space in service of the actors, aiding transition and directing focus. Tom Gibbons’ sound design shook our bones without injuring hearing. Voices arrived human and clear.

Make every effort to see this production before the play leaves our shores.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Wesley Holloway, Anastasia Hille, Angus Wright, Alexis Rae Forlenza

Oresteia by Aeschylus
Adapted and Directed by Richard
The Park Avenue Armory at 66th Street