Previewed by Gail M. Burns, February 2004
Why Greek tragedy in the depths of winter?
“Because nothing is more hot and exciting than ‘Agamemnon,” replied director Frank LaFrazia, Artistic Director of Main Street Stage, “The words are so rich and the questions the play poses are so relevant to today.”
Written in 458 BCE by Aeschylus, Agamemnon is the first play in a trilogy, the Oresteia, which is considered Aeschylus' greatest work, and perhaps the greatest Greek tragedy. The plot concerns the return home of Agamemnon, High King of Mycenae, after a lengthy absence during which he was fighting the Trojan War. Three acts of violence, all of which have occurred before the action of the play takes place, combine to make Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Agamemnon’s cousin, Aegisthus, inevitable. First was the abduction of Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus’ wife, Helen, by the Trojan Prince Paris, which led to the ten years of war between Greece and Troy. Second was Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his and Clytemnestra’s daughter, Iphigenia to the god Artemis to obtain a favorable wind for the Greek fleet. And third was the murder by Agamemnon’s father Atreus of his brother’s children, Aegisthus’ brothers, who he cooked and served to their father, Thyestes.
“Mahatma Gandhi once said something like ‘If everyone lived eye for an eye, then everyone would be blind,’” LaFrazia said, speaking of the endless cycle of family violence evident in the Orestia. “One of the great questions of the play is does Agamemnon’s hubris, defined as overbearing pride or arrogance, kill his daughter, does it help the Greeks win the Trojan War? Is it ever right to kill for the sake of killing?”
LaFrazia, who has dreamed of mounting a production of “Agamemnon” since his college days, has been aided in researching the ancient text by Bennington student Rachael Hayes, who has served as dramaturg and assistant director for the show as a work-term project for which she receives academic credit. Hayes researched the world of the play, prepared the script, and did historical research.
“I wanted to find out what history and mythology the 5th century BCE audience would have known coming in to a performance of this play,” Hayes said. She has worked on Greek choral speaking before and was delighted to discover that the long choral speeches in “Agamemnon” are entertaining. “After going through the process of casting the show I turned to Frank and said, ‘Wow! It’s not just homework!’”
“This has worked better with the actors than I had ever imagined it would,” LaFrazia said, “I had envisioned more movement and music to make it accessible to a modern audience, but the images are all right there. The words are so powerful. We just have to honor what is written.”
LaFrazia has created a stylized period production of the play incorporating theatrical elements from ancient Greece including half-masks for all of the named characters. The script being used is an amalgamation of different translations. “I wanted to find what would work best, what would b most act-able, and what would sound best to modern ears,” La Frazia explained, “I was really drawn to work on a more stylized and less naturalistic play after doing ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ last year. I knew just how I wanted to approach this show.”
The seven person cast includes Alexia Trova as Clytemnestra, Jeremy Clowe as Agamemnon, Alyssa Sklar as Cassandra and the watchman, Shaun Fogarty as Aegisthus and the herald, and Peg Malloy, Ann Vieira, and Andrew Bemis as the chorus. The show will run about 90 minutes without an intermission.
“Agamemnon” opens with a Community “Pay-What-You-Can” Night this evening at 8 p.m., followed by two $7-per-ticket preview performances tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. The official opening night is March 5, and the show runs March 5-7, 12 & 13 at 8 p.m., with 3 p.m. matinees on March 7 & 14. Beginning March 5 tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students. For reservations or more information call Main Street Stage at 413-663-3240 or visit their Web site. The theatre is located at 57 Main Street in North Adams, a few doors east of Papyri Books.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004