On Saturday evening, new Staff Writer Grace Novarr opened her laptop and attended the Barnard College Theatre Department’s production of “Electra,” which was live-streamed on Vimeo on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The fact that theater over livestream is necessarily different than theater in real life is self-evident, and the Barnard College Department of Theatre’s production of Electra embraces this difference and its possibilities, rather than trying to recreate the feeling of theater as we once knew it.
Electra is hybrid in its nature: this version was written by Sophocles in the fifth century BC and translated into a poetically modern voice by Anne Carson in 2001. Therefore, it already embodies a blend of the traditional and the avant-garde. Barnard’s Electra, directed by Javier Antonia Gonzalez, mirrors this in its creative use of video conferencing, reimagining the concept of “blocking” into a series of visually interesting arrangements of rectangles containing the actors’ heads and bodies. At times, the rectangles were layered or multiplied or color-graded to create dynamics that would be impossible to replicate in a non-video space.
The plot of the play follows Electra (Asha Futterman, BC ‘21), whose father, Agamemnon, has recently been killed by her mother, Clytemnestra (Daniela Mays-Sanchez, BC ‘24) and her mother’s lover, Aegisthus (Thomas Baker, CC ‘22). Electra mourns her father’s death and vows to get revenge on his killers, which she eventually achieves with the help of her brother, Orestes (Diego Lomeli, CC ‘21). A significant amount of the play’s running time is devoted to Electra’s expressions of her grief, both for her father and for Orestes, who for a time is presumed dead.
Futterman portrays this emotionality masterfully, moving through a series of monologues that are always captivating and never boring, even though they circle the same topics repeatedly. In Electra’s first scene, Futterman’s camera is positioned at a low angle, so that when she is in close-up, her eyes are upturned in a pleading way that makes her declarations of mourning intimate and convincing.
Later, when conversing with her conniving mother, Futterman sits on the floor, with the camera positioned so that she is not in the foreground of the shot, creating the sense that she is small and powerless, especially in comparison with Clytemnestra, whom Mays-Sanchez portrays as confident and entitled. Mays-Sanchez wears a tight red dress with flowing sleeves and stands in front of a lavishly decorated bed, looking regal and powerful; her tone, as she argues with Electra, is a bit shrill and self-righteous. This ensures that the audience only ever feels sympathetic with Electra, whose voice is always controlled, even as she expresses anger and grief.
As Clytemnestra and Electra converse, Clytemnestra’s image is multiplied across the screen, until there are four Clytemnestra’s imposing on one small, barely-there Electra. I was impressed by how the direction embraced the possibility of visual dynamics to reflect power dynamics.
Estee Dechtman (BC ‘22) is also impressive as Electra’s sister, Chrysothemis. Her role is to argue with Electra and convince her that exacting revenge upon her mother is a hopeless cause. Chrysothemis is portrayed as optimistic and big-hearted; even though the audience is supposed to agree with Electra’s perspective, it’s impossible to nevertheless root for Dechtman’s Chrysothemis and her rosier outlook on the world. Additionally, Lomeli as Orestes is convincing and vivid in his big scene at the end, when he reveals to Electra that he is the brother that she believed was dead. His pain at the suffering she has faced at the hands of their mother is believable and moving, even if his cowboy outfit seems discordant with his role in the play.
In this production, the Chorus (Talia Hankin, CC ’22, Julia Soares, Jane Walsh, CC ‘23, Maya Weed, CC ‘22) are portrayed as servants to the royal family that are always present onscreen, usually silent but occasionally interacting with the protagonists, although their boxes are usually smaller than those of the main characters. At times, the presence of the Chorus boxes on-screen distracted from the main action; the superposition of these boxes on top of each other sometimes (perhaps unintentionally) obscured the speaking character from visibility. Nevertheless, the performances given by the Chorus were purposeful and direct without overshadowing the protagonists.
At the end, when Orestes kills Clytemnestra, the screen centers a chilling visual of blood pouring across a floor, covering a pair of bare feet. The rest of the characters on-screen are shown in black-and-white, and Clytemnestra’s disembodied screams are heard. The effect is genuinely chilling. Even if, at the end of the day, it’s much easier to close a laptop screen and snap back to reality than it is to leave a darkened theater and slowly feel real life return to you, I still found Electra to be emotionally affecting. Barnard’s production proved that virtual theater can be just as resonant as in-person theater, and Electra was the perfect vehicle with which to make this case.
Scene in Act I via Grace’s MacBook Air.