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Review: The Oresteia at Shakespeare Theatre Company

By Kara Campbell

Adapted from Aeschylus’s trilogy, The Oresteia offers a new and lively take on a classic play. The play opens with Kelley Curran as Clytemnestra awaking after her reoccurring nightmare – one that will prove to be a key theme as we later discover the play is ridden with dark and sinister nightmares. As if to continue this sense of the foreboding, the set matches the ominous tone with a large house the color of rust and some outside exterior that is rocky and grayish black. The set reflects the setting of post-war but almost looks like the ruins of a volcano. The play takes place entirely outside of this rusty-blood colored house with the chorus, who act as the furies, but as the “help” to the king and queen. They frequently lurk on nearby rocks or resting beside them. This ensemble cast excels as a kind of jury later in the play and as narrators to the terrible events that unfold.

Also excelling is Simone Warren as Iphigenia, the young daughter who suffers from horrifying nightmares of her own and who will later suffer an equally horrifying fate. In her white nightgown and stuffed rabbit in hand, she tells her mother of her gory dreams in which the toy rabbit is pregnant and her father forces a gruesome fate for the unborn babies – all in a dream in which Iphigenia cannot speak. Kelcey Watson plays a tortured and terrifying Agamemnon, the father and king, who must carry out an unspeakable deed for the gods in order to end the ongoing war. The play leaves the audience morally conflicted, devastated, and in shock.

An especially refreshing aspect of the production was that the king and queen represent an interracial couple with biracial children and many of “the help” seemed to be non-binary or perhaps non-gender conforming. This may have been due to mere costume choice, but nonetheless, the show of diversity is different and compelling. The writing of this play is especially spectacular with devastating imagery and power. A particularly striking line was given by Zoë Sophia Garcia as Cassandra, a slave captured from war. One of “the help” tells her she is a brave girl, to which she replies, “They never say that to the lucky, do they?”

A distinct description of another of Clytemnestra’s nightmares involving her birthing of a snake and its sucking from her breast, eventually sucking both the milk and blood from her, and then coiling itself around her body is also particularly striking – and is revisited in the play. For all its darkness and heaviness, the play’s writing does offer moments of comedic relief, for which the audience is sure to be grateful.

The actors really give this production their all – with what must be an exhausting range of emotion. The costumes and use of fake blood are convincing instead of looking as though they belong to the cheap horror flick genre. The play, running at about two and a half hours, does begin to drag somewhere in the end as at this point the audience is all but emotionally spent. With the suspense and anticipation leading up to the arrival of Orestes, Josiah Bania somewhat belabors the job and seems more of a distracting annoyance on stage than a compelling, sympathetic character.

The play fades out with Rad Pereira, as Electra, giving a chilling performance in her last moment of redemption. Overall, this play is dynamic and beautiful. It will leave you disturbed, moved, and questioning the ties of loyalty, love, and redemption within the family.

Photo Credit: Scott Suchman

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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