Putting on the purple


By Euripides
Directed by Matt Daniels
Tyrannosaurus Rep
Gallery Space/Access Theatre
380 Broadway and White Street (352-4466)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 10)
Review by Steve Gold

No one can accuse Tyrannosaurus Rep of taking the easy road. They have chosen to stage Euripides's moralistic, untheatrical account of murder and revenge rather than, say, Sophocles's more crowd-pleasing version. But this inventive, no-frills production proved more than digestible to a contemporary audience.

The implied violence at the heart of this ancient tale remains jolting in its brutality. Clytemnestra (Cliff Kirvan) has conspired with Aegisthus to kill her husband Agamemnon, king of Argos, because he had previously sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia in order to save Helen of Troy, who was Agamemnon's mistress. Clytemnestra hacked her husband to pieces with an axe, an act which does not sit well with her children Elektra (Carrie Grace Murphy) and Orestes (Marcus Weiss); the fact that they've both been disowned is a further source of bitterness for them. In addition, Elektra is being forced to marry a lowly peasant (Mr. Kirvan) to insure she doesn't produce a noble heir to challenge Aegisthus. Orestes, for his part, has been in exile since childhood, hiding out in the land of Phocis. Now an adult, he returns to Argos to join his sister in plotting the murder of their mother and Aegisthus, to whom she now married.

This is one helluva tough play to stage: there is almost no physical action to speak of; the story is told through large chunks of expository dialogue--no modern play could get away with this. But Elizabeth Seydel Morgan's translation conveys raw power; and Matt Daniels, the director, has coaxed solid, stylized work from his actors, dressed in contemporary clothes. In the title role, the small, barefoot Ms. Murphy was fiery and single-minded, a woman in bondage to her homicidal impulses. As Orestes, Mr. Weiss artfully changed from callow, wide-eyed youth to guilt-stricken killer. The versatile Mr. Kirvan also appeared as the Old Man, who identifies the adult Orestes to Elektra (they were separated as children). His Clytemnestra was proud and strong, a worthy counterbalance to Elektra. Jim Louis did what he could with the thankless role of Pylades, Orestes's mute sidekick, who ultimately ends up marrying Elektra, as decreed by the Doscuri (yes, Mr. Kirvan again)--the deux ex machina who announces the play's resolution. The Chorus (Rebekah Jacobs, Laura Sauriat, and Suzi Takahashi) sang and danced and did both with much grace; Ken Schatz's Greek-tinged music design was sinuously appealing.

The uncredited set--Elektra's hovel of home--consisted of a rolling, painting platform decorated with bed sheets, window shutters, picture frames, and practically everything else you could think of--but it was effective just the same. The lighting, also uncredited, was serviceable. Hannah Evans created the characters' masks, composed mainly of plastic, metal strips, and wiring. On the whole, they were exotic without succumbing to ostentation, the sole exception being Clytaemnestra's purple mask, which made her look like the world's largest housefly.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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