review by Janet I. Martineau
Those masks...a marvel.
But there was much else to laud as well Wednesday night when Saginaw Valley State University opened its production of the Greek tragedy “Agamemnon,” penned way back there in 458 B.C.E. by a dude named Aeschylus.
Yes...an actual live, locally produced piece of classic Greek theater in mid-Michigan. ‘Bout as rare as things get in the theater world anywhere anymore, let alone here.
|Members of the Greek Chorus|
Walking into the night air, a student walking ahead of me suddenly turned and asked “Did you like it?” I confirmed I did. She was all a-twitter, having been assigned to write a paper on it.
Trying to calm her jittery nerves, I explained why she might have concerns, suggested she might want to see it a second and even a third time, waited for an explosion of “are you kidding me!”
Instead, she warmed to the idea.
And that gives hope that classic Greek theater is not yet dead. Something had intrigued her more than just the assignment. Greek theater is an acquired taste, but once it takes a nibble.....
Actors speaking in poetic rhyme some of the time. The wearing of earthy face masks which keep the facial expressions of the cast One Note but also captivating.
The use of the Greek Chorus concept providing background, summary and insight information for the audience, with all or most of them sometimes speaking in unison.
Human stories that are terrifyingly tragic and complex. Scattered words and half sentences.
Mythology mixed with the common man.
Whew! That was lot for director Steven C. Erickson and his cast of 18 students to bite off. And the attempt was valiant. Not perfect, but no disaster either.
The story here concerns the King of Argos, named Agamemnon, returned home after 10 years at war in the famed Troy, the one involving Helen. Left at home was his wife Clytemnestra, a woman with an axe to grind.
In this Erickson adaption, the Greek chorus far outnumbers the lead characters -- 10 of them to 6. And not only that, the chorus carries probably 80 percent of the lines.
On the negative side, their diction is not always razor sharp nor their lines in unison always in synch. The women are a little clearer and more deliberate in their delivery. But, then, learning to speak through a mask and/or in unison must be a nightmare so that they succeed as often as they do is noteworthy.
What they are, however, is superb throughout in the body English department -- hunching over, recoiling and slinking, using their hands to convey what their hidden faces cannot, moving as one when needed but also individually, rapping their canes on the floor, perched on logs. Just a joy to watch. We caught enough of their words to understand what was going on, and as this play continues through the weekend they will most likely improve.
As for the 6 “lead” roles.....holy smokes is Caitlyn Walsh a she-devil as the king’s wife back home. She spits her lines with contemptuousness in every word -- and with every word enunciated clearly, slowly and with sufficient volume. Outstanding performance.
|Tillie Dorgan as Cassandra|
By comparison, Tillie Dorgan as the captured slave/oracle Cassandra too often hurries her lines into a blur. Cassandra, however, arrives in a high state of anxiety which only keeps building so her character is nowhere near as controlled and controlling as Walsh’s.
As for the three main male roles, they are each so short lived there is little time for them to connect with the viewer other than to leave the impression they are all weaklings undone by war, by women or by both.
Dave Ryan as the title character, Travis Wooley as his unglued herald and Dakotah Myers as the devious man back home all need to stretch more into their characters to deliver more shadings and nuances. They all do speak clearly however.
Elise Shannon’s costumes are perfect for the Greek Chorus and elegant for Cassandra, but a little under executed for the rest. As noted earlier, the masks by Kristen Phillips Gray are winners. The set by Jerry Dennis is, as always, noteworthy -- including, even, a chariot. And the lighting by Karli Jenkins and Eric Lewis Johnson offers some nice shadow play,