Domestic violence: Brooks Ralston (left), Elisabeth Kirby, Melanie Bandera, and Lindsey Andersen discover the downside of family life in Electra.

Dramatically Dull

Well-intentioned ‘Electra’ a muddled mess

By Daedalus Howell

GERMAN philosopher Friedrich Schlegel once wrote, “Good drama must be drastic.” But drastic drama isn’t necessarily good. For instance, witness the newly formed traveling ensemble Staged Hereafter’s stringent redux of Sophocles’ Electra.

Directed by Susannah Woods from an adaptation by her and Helen Kongsgaard, the production, though difficult and awkwardly muddled, has at least two redeeming features–it’s outdoors and it’s free.

Woods’ project is noble. She wants to bring theater to communities around the Bay Area free of charge (a positively heroic notion given the fact that tickets to local shows are often $15 each). She also wants to provide a forum for the surplus of actors willing to trample the footlights. However, uneven casting and laggard pacing mar the ensemble’s debut show.

Electra is a family portrait painted in blood. Understanding the characters’ motivations requires familiarity with King Agamemnon’s rap sheet. He murders the husband of Clytemnestra (Elisabeth Kirby) in front of her, rips her suckling infant from her breast, and commits infanticide, then forcibly weds the bereaved widow and begets three daughters and a son.

Mercifully, this prescription for family happiness occurs only in the program in the form of a prologue.

Alas, Clytemnestra reaches her breaking point and (in lieu of calling social services) enlists her lover, Aegisthus (Brooks Ralston), to kill the despotic king.

Electra (Melanie Bandera), the middle daughter and apparent victim of the aphorism “Father knows best,” proves herself the consummate Daddy’s girl by bearing a grudge against her mother so vitriolic it makes Mommy Dearest read like a greeting card. She sends her kid brother, Orestes (Gabriel Weiss), off to the temples of Apollo, where he spends 10 years plotting to avenge his father’s death.

And this is where Woods’ production begins. What happens? Orestes comes home and kills his mother, proving once and for all that the family that slays together stays together.

As Electra, Bandera proves herself a studied and pensive actress unafraid to explore the emotional range of her character. Of course, that range turns out to have only one note–despair. Bushels full.

Armond Edward Dorsey does a fine turn as Paedagogus, the loyal servant who had hidden the young Orestes for years. Dorsey is captivating during a monologue in which he recounts a bogus story of his charge’s death in a chariot race (Chariots of Liar?). Indeed, one wishes he’d simply relay the remainder of the play in the same competent if blustery manner.

Since Electra is staged outdoors, audiences are encouraged to make themselves comfortable–as one gentleman did at a performance of this production at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross. He lay down on the bench seating and napped.

Bringing classics to the stage free of charge is to be applauded. But in this case, you get what you pay for.

Electra hits the stage on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 4 and 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Pride Mountain Vineyards, 4026 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena. Free. 415/ 258-1989.

From the August 3-9, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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