THE ORESTEIA, PART ONE: AGAMEM- NON
Christ Church Cathedral
690 Burrard St.
$15 per show/
$35 for all three plays
You know the cliché about great art being “timeless”? In the case of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia, a 5th century BC three-part Greek tragedy, that cliché is absolutely true. It’s a story of violence begetting violence, revenge begetting revenge, death begetting more death, until Condoleezza …oops, I mean the gods themselves have to step in and stop it, in the process creating the basis for civil society: organized systems of justice replacing blood feud and vendetta.
What a pleasure it is to hear these great plays performed by a strong professional cast in John Lewin’s excellent colloquial translation. It’s a special pleasure to see them in beautiful (and cool) Christ Church Cathedral, a venue that reinforces the spiritual dimensions of Aeschylus’ arguments about the self-defeating illogic of violence. And it’s heartening to know that everyone involved has donated their services so that all proceeds go to PAL (Performing Arts Lodge) Vancouver.
Agamemnon, the first part of the trilogy, marks the return to Argos of the great Greek general (powerfully arrogant Donald Adams), home from conquering Troy. But the celebrations are cut short when he and his war trophy, Trojan princess Cassandra (Naomi Wright), are murdered by his wife Clytemnestra (Denyse Wilson), who has waited years to revenge herself for Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia.
Clytemnestra is assisted by her lover Aegisthus (Tobias Slezak), who is revenging a terrible crime against his father and brothers committed long ago by Agamemnon’s father. And in the next play, The Libation Bearers, the children of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Orestes and Electra, will take revenge against their mother and Aegisthus for their father’s death. Finally, in The Furies, even the gods will see that the insanity has to end.
On a bare stage, with altar and stained glass window backdrop, director Torquil Campbell (his mother Moira Wylie and legendary father Douglas Campbell direct the other two parts) gets excellent performances from most of his cast, particularly the women. Wilson’s methodical Clytemnaestra operates from a very deep well of anger that has festered for a long, long time. Wright’s Cassandra is terrifying, a woman cursed with the ability to see every awful turn in the horrible road ahead.
The powerful men and even the impotent, including the chorus of “stay-at-homes” (led by the superb John Innes), posture and rant—sometimes a little too loudly for the acoustics, especially when competing with Chris Dumont’s electric guitar. As in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, currently at Bard on the Beach, it’s pretty much a man’s, man’s world—and what a mess they’ve made of it.
Agamemnon repeats Thursday at 8, the other two parts play Friday and Saturday evening, and all three run Sunday at 3, 5, and 7 PM.