Dukakis Is Clytemnestra Off-Bway in Early 2004; Aldredge Designs Aquila's Agamemnon

News   Dukakis Is Clytemnestra Off-Bway in Early 2004; Aldredge Designs Aquila's Agamemnon Aquila Theatre Company's staging of Aeschylus' The Agamemnon starring Olympia Dukakis in early 2004 with play SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center upstate prior to its Off-Broadway run at the John Jay Theatre in Manhattan.

Peter Meineck, artistic director of the troupe that uses British and U.S. actors, directors and designers to reimagine classics, announced plans for the Greek tragedy (it's his own translation) at a May 15 tribute honoring film and stage actress Dukakis and welcoming her into the company. In The Agamemnon, Dukakis will play the murderous Clytemestra, whose daughter has been sacrificed by Agamemnon to help win the Trojan War.

Meineck also announced that award-winning Broadway and screen costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge (who, like Dukakis has Greek roots), will design costumes for the production, the first of three works in the 458 B.C. trilogy known as The OresteiaAgamemnon, Libation Bearers and Eumenides. Aquila has plans to tackle the later two plays in the future. Aldredge's Broadway design credits include Annie, Barnum, La Cage aux Folles and more.

Meineck said the production will include Aquila's signature physical style and spare settings, and the company will total as many as 13. This is the largest undertaking in the history of the young troupe, he said. Recent Off-Broadway work from Aquila has included Much Ado About Nothing (set in the 1960s, in a world designed by Beau Brummel) and The Comedy of Errors set in a somewhat cartoonish Turkish world.

Certainly the presence of Academy Award-winner Dukakis (Moonstruck) will bring Aquila its highest profile yet. Her name will appear alphabetically in the program, at her insistence, Meineck said. The production will be co-directed and co-designed by Robert Richmond and Meineck, with music by company member Anthony Cochrane.

In addition to Equity runs in New York, the company tours non-Equity productions of plays. Starting June 21, a reimagined The Importance of Being Earnest (set in the late 1970s) will play six weeks in Manhattan at the new 200-seat Baruch Performing Arts Center at Lexington and 25th Street. Meineck said the play is pure Oscar Wilde, but the production is "'Ab Fab' meets 'Top of the Pops.'" Again, the costumes will be by Beau Brummel.

The troupe is currently represented in New York through May 18 with a staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Agamemnon plays SUNY's Performing Arts Center in Purchase, NY, Jan. 26-Feb. 3 before beginning performances Feb. 4 at the John Jay Theatre at 59th Street and Tenth Avenue.

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Dukakis saw the troupe's Comedy of Errors in summer 2002 and she and Meineck had discussions about the company, its approach and the possibility of her playing Agamemnon's wife in the trio of 458 B.C. tragedies by Aeschylus.

The script of The Oresteia, focusing on the House of Atreus, would be drawn from Meineck's own translation of the three plays that make up the only extant cycle by the influential Greek playwright: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides.

Meineck said it was his hope in rehearsal that another version of the text would be shaped.

The bloody and terrifying tragedies — about a royal family seeking revenge on itself in a time of war — would be a departure from recent Aquila shows, which have been comedies.

The current Midsummer at the New Vic is important, Meineck said, because it shows New York what the troupe can do on a stage larger than the tiny Off Broadway houses it has played in recent years.

"Our shows are so physical that they are sometimes too big for the spaces we play," Meineck admitted. "This is a new departure for Aquila. We feel we've been regarded as an Off-Broadway company so far."

Meineck said he and co-director Robert Richmond want the eventual three-act, 3 1/2-hour staging to be an event worthy of a theatre festival. "Our ambition is to do for [Greek tragedy] what Cirque du Soleil does for circus...make it something that's an event, that has an epic scale to it," he said.

Greek tragedy doesn't have to be academic and "painful" for an audience, Meineck said: "They are horror stories, they should be terrifying, absolutely terrifying."

One of the major events of the plays is the murder of Agamemnon by wife Clytemnestra, who is seeking revenge for the murder/sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia.

"I told [Dukakis] it was my fantasy for her to play Clytemestra...the most misunderstood character in Greek drama," Meineck said. "It's such a difficult role and so powerful...you need someone in that role who can really pull it off."

He said he will continue to strive for a cast of international actors, a trademark of the company.

"The challenge will be to find an Agamemnon who can hold his own with Olympia," Meineck said. "Part of the fun is going to be finding those people. I think there will be Aquila regulars in the show, working the chorus and really making people see the chorus as a great strength in tragedy."

Visit Aquila Theatre Company at aquilatheatre.com.