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Dynamic Electra at Seattle Shakespeare
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Dynamic Electra at Seattle Shakespeare

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Electra
Seattle Shakespeare
Company
Through January 31


Frank McGuinness' adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy of the famous Greek myth Electra is a fast-moving story told in real time. A striking element of the play is that its characters are mostly women, and while each woman is neither all villain nor all saint, each of the main characters' motives can be clearly understood.

Clytemnestra (Ellen Boyle) conspired with her lover Aegistus (John Bogar) to kill her husband, Agamemnon. We learn that she did this as retribution for Agamemnon's years-ago killing of their youngest daughter, and that she has harbored hatred for him since then. Agamemnon's oldest daughter, Electra (Marya Sea Kaminski), saved her tiny brother Orestes (Darragh Kennan), sent him with a loyal servant (Todd Jefferson Moore) into exile, and has waited years for him to return and avenge the murder of her father and take back the kingdom.

The middle sister, Chrysothemis (Susannah Millonzi), has tried to stay in the background, seeming to accept her mother's domination. She's the one that doesn't think rocking the boat is a good idea. Electra, on the other hand, has challenged her mother and made her grief plain to everyone. The two sisters have a heated, even-handed argument over which is the correct way to live, with both points clearly having advantages and disadvantages. Chrysothemis successfully manages to maintain a dignity in quiet watchfulness, rather than become a cowed and subjugated failure. We feel for Electra in her grief, but also wonder if there isn't a better way to manage her life.

Her scene with Kennan's Orestes, as she first mourns him as dead and then discovers him alive, is fraught with quivering audience tension, since we are introduced to the alive-and-well Orestes right at the start. The loyal servant's fictional tale of Orestes' death during a tournament shows Moore's great story-telling talent.

Directed tautly by Sheila Daniels, this 90-minute production captures and holds attention through every breathless minute. Kaminski, a great dramatic talent, mourns with powerful energy, but also with able restraint, so that tension builds and ebbs. Kaminski has a significant exchange with Boyle as her mother, and both women dominate the stage in completely different ways. It's a heady moment.

The Greek chorus in this production is an almost-modern group of female friends who support, cajole, mourn and warn Electra throughout the performance. Led by Susanna Burney, Ellen Elizabeth Steves and Jessie Underhill provide continuity and clarity, rather than getting in the way, as the chorus tends to do in lesser adaptations. Orestes is supported by the understated Tim Smith-Stewart.

Daniels has a particular affinity for the grand and the ritualistic, yet she mixes in modernistic elements like Andrea Bryn Bush's set, including masses of chain link fence, to metaphorically display Electra's trapped existence. Lighting designer Andrew D. Smith and sound designer Robertson Witmer create minimalistic and subtle visual and auditory changes. Witmer's sense of sound augmentation is particularly acute in this production. Ritualistic movement and sacrifices of colored sand are key punctuations, emphasizing universal human emotions.

There's no real need to warn about keeping youngsters away from (offstage) violence, but there's plenty of blood to go around. For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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