Jane Alexander will star in a trimmed-down version of one of Eugene O'Neill's most daunting works, Mourning Becomes Electra, at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre. The production is the centerpiece of the company's 2002 season, which will also feature Dirty Blonde, Charles L. Mee, Jr.'s Wintertime, Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman and The Education of Randy Newman.
Mourning Becomes Electra is O'Neill's monumental take on Aeschylus' trilogy, The Oresteia. Set in the American south during the 19th century, the play is made up of three parts and a total of 13 acts. Rare stagings of the work have usually clocked in at five hours. But ACT artistic director Gordon Edelstein, who will direct the piece, has gotten the nod from the O'Neill estate to trim the text down to three hours, allotting roughly one hour to each play in the trilogy. "What I want to have is a streamlined, intense, pocket melodrama," Edelstein told The Seattle Times.
Alexander played the Electra character, called Lavinia by O'Neill, opposite Sada Thompson many years ago. At ACT, she will be in the Clytemnestra mode, essaying the O'Neill role of Christine. Alexander has appeared on Broadway in The Great White Hope, 6 Rms Riv Vu, Find Your Way Home, First Monday in October, The Visit, The Sisters Rosensweig and Honour. She was nominated for a Tony Award for every one of these roles, winning for the first. For four years in the 1990's, she served as head of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The ACT roster will also feature Mee's Wintertime, perpetuating the sudden nationwide popularity of the author of Big Love. The play is about Mee's favorite topic: love; in this case, "fighting for love, overcoming the obstacles of having real love in your life," as Edelstein puts it.
Rounding out the season are the Seattle bow of Claudia Shear's quirky paean to Mae West, Dirty Blonde; performance artist Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman, about a love affair between a dark skinning black woman and a light-skinned black man; The Education of Randy Newman, a musical of Newman songs which debuted at South Coast Rep; and a sixth play to be selected later. —By Robert Simonson