Elektra: CU Players Review

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Feeling emotionally burdened, Bwog’s Catharsis Bureau Chief, Claire Sabel, sought release last night in CU Players’ production of Sophokles’ Elektra.  And according to her review, the trip was more than worthwhile.

It is one thing to read the great works of Greek drama in Lit Hum, and quite another to bring them to life on stage – but CU Players’ production of Elektra, directed by Brian Bené, is a truly brave attempt at tackling Sophocles’ very difficult tragedy.  Lasting a tightly packed 90 minutes with no intermission, the performance can at times be laborious, but is ultimately extremely rewarding.

As Bené points out, the central themes of Elektra – suffering, loss, revenge, and the desire for justice – are all very modern ones which make the play both extremely accessible and uncomfortably relevant.  Thus, after having read virtually all of its modern translations, CU Players decided to adopt one of the most contemporary versions available – that of Anne Carson, published in 2001. Carson’s Elektra is so desperate and trapped by the fate of her family that the only course of action left to her is to lash out and ‘make noise’; a notable and distinctive feature of this version, as explained in the preface to the play which is helpfully included in the program, is Carson’s decision to transliterate the lamenting shouts of the characters, so that the audience hears “Oimoi!” instead of the expected “Alas!”

Apart from the arresting choice of translation, the production offers much in the way of directorial finesse. The scene-changes are seamless and the coordination of the characters, particularly the Chorus, is remarkable. The set is harshly backlit, but essentially evokes the set-up of a traditional Greek tragedy, with a screen behind which the murders can take place; a low droning, meanwhile, is the only sound effect, playing from your entry into the theater and gradually bearing down on your concentration.

The actors are mostly confident in their roles, although at times those with minor parts seem to be a bit lost in the overbearing presence of the two leads, Elektra (Danaya Almenares-Mesa) and Klytaimnestra (Melissa Macedo). Yet it is hard to blame them. Macedo’s face is exquisitely difficult to read, and her extreme control is matched by a devastating performance by Almenares-Mesa. Both actors come into their roles as the play progresses, despite initially being hindered by their somewhat unwieldy costumes.  

There is a clear attempt to make the play speak for itself and to remove all barriers of unfamiliarity with the audience. This is particularly effective in the synchronization of the chorus: its presence constantly ebbs and flows, accentuating Elektra’s anguish by banging on the floor and pleading to Zeus, or attempting to let her anger diffuse, looking on nervously from the background. Faced with such a demanding task, the team does at times slip in its coordination, but the members are easily forgiven by their collectively electrifying effect at crucial moments. The creative team’s meticulous attention to detail, such as the matching ribbons for each Chorus member, does deserve credit for effort, but the production could be further enhanced by somewhat less cumbersome outfits.

Despite these few reservations, you do become intently absorbed in the drama. The female leads’ astounding performances easily make up for any minor errors. And although Elektra has moments of emotionally taxing, nearly unbearable lamenting monologue, the culmination of the team’s efforts in the final scene is well worth the ticket price and hour and a half required to reach it.  CU Players’ Elektra runs tonight and tomorrow at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm at Lerner Black Box Theatre.

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1 Comment

  1. Surprised...  

    What is this? A well written theater review about a Columbia production? I'm shocked!

    Can't wait to see the show and now I'm even more excited!

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