BY BRANDON LAFVING The Oresteia is a triptych of plays — Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Furies — written by Aeschylus that the Philadelphia Artist’s Collective (PAC) has adapted and presented as part of the Fringe Festival. Adapted and directed by Philadelphia’s Brenna Geffers, The Oresteia Project modernizes the ancient Greek drama so that contemporary American ethos replaces the Ancient Greek perspective. The final scene is the quintessential example of this, when the implacable Athena, played by Dana Kreitz, prophetically reveals the gods’ judgment of humanity. Apparently, the gods decided to manipulate the Greeks and Trojans into a war, in order to reduce the world population. Although I took issue with that particular explanation, in general I appreciated the complexity and play between classical versus contemporary perspectives of justice.
Calling Agamemnon’s family troubled, would be an understatement. In Agamemnon, the war monger returns from his ten-year pissing contest with Troy with news of a Pyrrhic victory. Before Agamemnon even left the battlefield, he sacrificed his daughter in exchange for the wind that would take his ships to Troy. When he returns, completely empty-handed, his fleet destroyed by a vast storm, Agamemnon tries to stay optimistic, extolling the virtue of his combat in a celebration of the dead. Little does he know that in his absence, his wife Clytemnestra, played by the seductive Deb Block, has bedded another man and plots revenge on him for sacrificing their daughter. Within a night, what should have been a happy family reunion is turned into a bloodbath.
The Philadelphia Arts Collective took a tastefully minimalist approach to the production. Actors and actresses were dressed in simple black costumes, and murders all happened offstage. This left the performance without much in the way of visual stimuli. Instead, the emphasis was on audio, with percussion instrumentation employed to accent the tension, drama, and the passion. Additionally, the cast read from the script, an aspect of the performance that was initially hard to swallow. The quality of the individual performances certainly helped me get over the company’s budgetary constraints. Josh Totora plays The Watchman, a relentlessly analytical narrator. He carries a Tombek (a portable African drum), playing it as though on the verge of a great battle, and he did a fantastic job at switching between his dual roles as actor and musician.
Likewise, Aime Kelly’s performance as Electra was extremely provocative and gripping. After her mother, played by Deb Block, seduces her father to kill him in their bedchamber, Kelly seemed to lose control completely, drowning in the bottomless pool of her character’s grief. Her inconsolable shrieking was positively gut-wrenching. Despite the age of the original text, which predates the birth of Christ, the script managed to connect with contemporary social issues, such as the war in Iraq and the debate over family values. PAC also managed their resources well, putting on a captivating show with an incredibly small budget. I am interested to see what they produce in the coming season.