Theatre Review by Jerald Raymond Pierce
2 out of 4
I know I’ve harped on it before, but I see it so often: Young theatre artists falling too in love with, and revering too much, a play’s poetry. It’s most common with Shakespeare’s plays. Actors (and the directors that lead them) show so much reverence and love of the poetic text that the characters portrayed fail to be human. Then, when characters lose their humanity, these shows become difficult to watch. This is the case with Right Brain Project’s production of Electra Garrigó.
The biggest issue for this play is clarity. This is an old script (75 years old) telling an even older story (in the BCE’s) and somewhere along the line from Virgilio Piñera, to Margaret Carson’s English academic translation, to this production’s partially retranslated performance script, a lot of the simple plot points got lost. Some of this is in the acting and direction. For instance, there’s a moment when Electra and her brother Orestes see each other for the first time in years. By years, we’re talking long enough to forget what the other looks like and not recognize each other when they reconnect. But, even though the script does briefly touch on time passing, it’s impossible to see that from what is happening on stage. There’s no weight to the fact that these long lost siblings have found each other again.
Weight is another issue that came up repeatedly during this production. It’s a Greek tragedy originally, so it’s hard to blame a director for not wanting to let the text get too heavy or dark. But, director Kathi Kaity went so far away from that that the story itself started to lose meaning. This story wants to deal with the idea of fate and the complex idea of whether or not we actually have the power to make the choice to do or not to do something. But this production (sometimes literally) dances around rather than sets its feet to deal with the fact that this human being (not some walking poem) is going to kill his mother. There’s an entire monologue with Víctor Maraña (Orestes) acting his face off putting the cause and effect pieces together to figure out why his life was falling into place like it was, but it meant next to nothing because the reality of the situation didn’t exist.
This show, chocked full of expository monologues, struggles to keep momentum during scenes. There’s not much action and without the emotional investment in the characters, it’s hard to stay interested. That being said, there are some very lovely design aspects of this show. Set designer Marni Balint and Kaity utilized some beautiful fabric columns to accentuate the traditional Greek chorus. The chorus, standing inside of the columns, would gesture gently toward Electra whenever she came near. It was a chilling visual of the fates constantly connecting to and guiding Electra.
I’m big on storytelling. I walk into a theatre with a simple expectation: to be told a story. How/why/where this story is told doesn’t matter. Just tell a clear story. There are some nice aspects of this production, but the show as a whole was too interested in the beauty of this duly respected text to remember that this former Greek tragedy is just that: a tragedy. It doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom, but it needs to deal in the reality of these choices. Each character’s decision needs to matter, and that’s missing from this production.
Electra Garrigó runs through April 15th at The Right Brain Project, 4001 N Ravenswood, Chicago, IL 60613. More information can be found at www.theRBP.org. Information is also available at www.theatreinchicago.com.
Jerald Raymond Pierce is a journalist, stage manager, actor, director, and playwright in the Chicago area with an MA in Arts Journalism from Syracuse University and a BFA in Acting from Ohio University. He also is a contributor to American Theatre magazine and an editor for ShowSnob.com. When he’s not spending unnecessary amounts of money on sports tickets, theatre tickets, and random travels, he’s probably ranting about Doctor Who, time travel, and the general merits of current television and movie writers.