This Wednesday, Guest Writer Sophie Tobin attended the dress rehearsal of KCST’s Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill, based on the Ancient Greek Oresteia. Despite some successful design and directing elements, the show was dragged down by acting that didn’t live up to its difficult script.
The King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s production of Mourning Becomes Electra tells the tale of how loss, grief, and lies play into a family’s dynamic after the death of the family patriarch. Written by Eugene O’Neill, the play initially appeared as a part of a much larger cycle in 1931. Many cuts were made to the script, resulting in a concise, simple plot.
The ensemble kicks off the show, entering while eerily humming (which was bone-chillingly beautiful), then kneeling along the edge of the audience, facing upstage. The show jolts to life with General Ezra Mannon (Jason Bowen, CC ‘21) lying in bed, flailing around as two women scream and panic. He accuses his wife, Christine (Grace Hargis, BC ’20), of his murder. Their daughter, Lavinia (Rose Meriam, BC ’19), is the only person who knows of this, and she immediately makes it clear to her mother that justice will be served. And, lo and behold, it is. Lavinia proves to her extremely unstable brother, Orin (Gabriel Multedo, CC ’22), that their mother is having an affair and is guilty of their father’s murder. In a fit of rage, he kills Adam Brant (also Jason Bowen, CC ’21) (his mother’s lover). As a result, Christine commits suicide. The play comes to a close with Lavinia reflecting on how justice has, in fact, been served.
The ensemble, a masked group representing multiple memories and people, was really interesting but could have been utilized a lot more. There were some interesting moments of movement work corresponding with the dialogue, but this was used sparingly and felt a bit random, leaving something to be desired in terms of the ensemble. In terms of the overall cast, each actor was fine in their role, but I was extremely disappointed in the lack of diversity.
One particular moment that stood out to me was when two ensemble members acted out the dynamic between Christine and Lavinia as they recall their disdain for one another, and how they no longer recognize each other as mother and daughter. The juxtaposition between Grace Hargis (Christine) and Rose Meriam (Lavinia), was great; Hargis’s fragility and franticness to get away with the crime bounces off Meriam’s stoicity and firmness. The two play off of one another quite nicely.
I have to mention the dynamic between Orin and Christine. Gabriel Multedo and Grace Hargis take creepy to a whole new level when they establish their Oedipal relationship through the strangest combination of familial doting and flirtation. It absolutely made my skin crawl. They had some really strong moments alone together, but sometimes a thrown away line or falling inflection would break me out of the story, and the feeling would be momentarily lost. This happened quite a few times when Orin was having one of his mental breakdowns. When it comes to highly emotional scenes, a consistent sense of urgency is key.
I also have to take a moment to talk about the Shantyman (Mark Pierce, CC ‘20), who opened the second half with a drunken escapade, complete with ballad singing and harmonica playing. Shantyman: if you’re reading this, I love you.
Another fantastic feature of this show was how the sound and lighting (and sometimes even the ensemble) enhanced certain crucial moments, such as during one of Orin’s mental breakdowns. The lights slowly transitioned to green, and a really creepy noise slowly increased in volume, until he snapped back to reality. The ensemble, which had been melting in the background, also snapped back to attention in perfect synchronicity. My favorite part of this was the fact that I didn’t even notice the changes until they all jolted back to normal. I then realized that I had a general sense of nervousness, and the creepy lighting and sound was definitely the culprit. Another time the lighting took center stage (literally and metaphorically) was during Christine’s suicide. Her movements were so precise, yet so delicate. A lot of great work was put into these little moments, but instead of being consistently wowed by the correspondence of lighting, sound, and acting, I was instead wishing there were more moments like that throughout the play.
The costumes and set design were overall pretty simple and neutral. The utilization of the masks was interesting but inconsistent and unclear. They were used to symbolize general feelings, memories, death, or to differentiate between ensemble characters, which lead to a lot of confusion whenever a mask would appear.
The decision to cut the script into an extremely simple plot requires extreme emotional depth in the actors’ portrayal of the characters. Although some scenes and delivery of lines were quite raw and real, it overall felt as if the actors were not up to the emotional task that comes with pulling extreme depth out of a simple plot line. During more intense or quiet moments, some lines were unintelligible, further perpetuating my confusion. I had no strong attachments towards any of the characters and was only mildly interested in finding out what would happen to them.
The play resulted in exactly what the opening scene suggested would happen: revenge being sought. The end, lights out. It didn’t even hit me that the play was over until the actors began to take their bows. Because some of the more complicated plot points had been cut for the sake of timeliness, there wasn’t really any sort of turning point to me. It was a sequence of events, plain and simple. It felt like I had been taken down a road to nowhere.
All in all, I like the direction that the show was headed in. Some really cool concepts were utilized, but a lot of them fell flat or weren’t followed through on. The combination of a simple plot and insufficient acting left me with a feeling of incompletion and mild disappointment. In the future, KCST should focus more on diverse casting, the feasibility of the script and its dramaturgy, and consistency in technical elements.
Mourning Becomes Electra plays Thursday, Oct. 25 through Saturday at 8 PM in the Lerner Black Box. Show up early to get off the waitlist.
Photos via Tina Simpson