The Oresteia
By Aeschylus

Directed by Julane Havens

Reviewed by Carlos Manuel

Copyright © 2012 Carlos Manuel. All rights reserved.

To attend Aeschylus’ The Oresteia at Walden Theatre and find out that the company’s mission is to “provide the opportunity for young people to grow and develop through the comprehensive study of theatre” was a surprising delight. Like all Greek plays, The Oresteia is not an easy work to present. Greek theatre is challenging because it is very verbose, and I’ve seen enough of it to compare and contrast productions. But I have never seen a Greek play done with young people.

If you have not seen this modest production, I urge to take the time and see it. Yes, the actors are not adults; but boy, do they do their best to become one! Every actor who participated in this production needs to be commended – from those who played principal roles to those who were part of the chorus – because each of them portrayed her/his role with enthusiasm and commitment, something some adult actors have not done in productions I’ve recently seen.

The technical elements of the show are not up to par with the acting. Having the chorus in black makes sense. But, unfortunately, the different shades of black, lengths of the costumes, and style of clothing made it appear the actors had to pull out their “costumes” from their own closets. More bothersome were the pieces of red fabric, which visually worked well, but it would have been best if the production team had spent some time creating seams for each piece of fabric; they looked like they were just ripped apart and distributed in a hurry. That’s how the set looked, too, built in a hurry with absolutely no cohesiveness whatsoever, and worse, no dramatic purpose. With all the movement going on, it would have been better to have an empty stage. The live music added a good element to the production. Unfortunately, there were times when the musicians forgot there were actors on stage and drowned their voices with the cacophony of undistinguishable sounds.

What works best here is the direction (and adaptation) by Julane Havens. She had a clear vision about the show and knew how to use the young group to create such vision. The movement, which I found fascinating, had purpose and was very engaging. This is a good thing, because I’ve I said before, Greek plays are verbose. So to see a young group of actors become towers, snakes, maps, and so many other things was a delight. But what really made this production exciting are the actors who committed to their roles – except for one young lady who constantly kept looking around the theatre, the audience and other actors. That was distracting because she was not easy to ignore due to a black spot she had on her left cheek. Nonetheless, they all did a wonderful job with the material. The actors playing The Furies, Orestes, Apollo and Cassandra stood out the most.

Another thing that helped this production was the translation by Peter Meineck, who is known for his classical Greek translations, and for this particular work which aims to adapt the play for the modern stage. The translation isn’t poetic yet it manages to be effective, bringing Aeschylus’s drama and imagery to the front, no doubt helping the young group of actors in the understanding of such complex work.

Once again, this TYA production is to be commended because, despite a few shortfalls, the commitment, the energy and the enthusiasm the cast invested in the production is palpable, enjoyable and appreciated.

The Oresteia

October 11-13 and 18-20 at 7:30 p.m.
October 13 and 20 at 2:00 p.m.

Walden Theatre

1123 Payne Street

Louisville, KY

(502) 589-0084