Six plays. Three Greek playwrights. One experience.
The world premiere of Agamemnon and His Daughters, Kenneth Cavander's unique "blending" of works by the ancient Greek playwrights who chronicled the famed family of Trojan War-era Greece, ends its run at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, Oct. 7.
The continuous narrative, which opened the 2001-2002 season there Sept. 7, spans a 20-year period and draws from Aeschylus' Agamemnon, Euripides' Iphigeneia at Aulis and Iphigeneia in Tauris, and the Elektra story as written by all three ancients. Cavander's adaptation, directed by Arena artistic director Molly Smith on the Fichandler Stage, focuses on the legend of Argos ruler King Agamemnon and his three daughters, Iphigeneia, Elektra and Chrysothemis. The piece begins with the launch of the Trojan War (Iphigenia at Aulis) and the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, "and follows the family through revenge, suffering and death...to joy and redemption."
Cavander's version returns to the original Greek spellings of the characters' names, "in an attempt to free the subject matter of layers of interpretation imposed by later centuries," according to press notes. "As a theatre devoted to American voices, it is fitting that we perform these rich, deep plays now, 2,500 years after they were written, because they help us to see our theatrical traditions in context," Smith said in production notes. "Agamemnon and His Daughters is barbaric and intimate at the same time, with twists and turns that leave you breathless. Its recurring themes of ambition, revenge, courage, retribution, sacrifice and forgiveness also make it surprisingly Washingtonian."
Cavander said in production notes: "Many people equate Greek drama with women wailing in unison, endless speeches, tangled relationships and stilted dialogue. What is often lost is the sense that these plays were written for an audience that expected what every audience expects from theatre: spectacle, excitement and characters that reflect their own lives. When you blow away the cobwebs of academic interpretation, you discover plays that are direct and emotionally explosive with many flashes of wit and humor."
Cavander previously translated and co-adapted The Greeks, a three evening cycle of 10 Greek works, with John Barton. His career began in London at the Royal Court Theatre where he was assistant to director George Devine on Chekhov's Platonov starring Rex Harrison. He is a founding director of the second stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival and wrote and directed the musical, Boccaccio, with composer Richard Peaslee.
In Agamemnon and His Daughters, Jack Willis is the title royal. Gail Grate is Klytaimnestra. Marta Ann Lastufka is Iphigeneia. Nastascia Diaz (Bright Lights, Big City) is Elektra. Maia DeSanti is Chrysothemis. Paolo Andino is Orestes. Andrew Long is Aigisthos and Talthybios. Tsidii LeLoka (The Lion King) is Kassandra. Ezra Knight is Achilles and Pylades. Colleen Delany is Pythoness. Naomi Jacobson is Artemis. Rebecca Rice is the Lookout. Kurt Rhoads is Menelaos and Thoas. Stephen Patrick Martin is Priest and Soldier. Greek chorus members include Saskia DeVries, Paula Gruskiewicz, Rosemary Knower and Great Pemberton.
Composer-sound designer Fabian Obispo created a Middle Eastern-inspired musical score. Karma Camp is the choreographer. Designers are Pavel Dobrusky (set and lights) and Lindsay Davis (costumes).
Previews began Aug. 31. For information, call (202) 488-3300 or visit arenastage.org.
Concurrent with the Arena Greek epic, The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC, staged The Oedipus Plays, an adaptation of the three related plays by Sophocles (set in a conceptial African environment), directed by Michael Kahn. Subscribers to both theatres got discounts to the Greek works at the other companies. Those performances continue to Oct. 21.
— By Kenneth Jones