Theatre Erindale kicked off its “Silver Season” last Thursday with a haunting performance of Euripides’ Orestes. Under the direction of Autumn Smith, this classic Greek tragedy adopts a new translation by Anne Carson. The production is set in Victorian England and incorporates elements of dark humour that lighten the mood of this traditionally somber play.
Six days after murdering his mother Klytaimestra, the vindictive Orestes (Nathaniel Kinghan) has fallen into the throes of madness. A gang of dark and beautiful women, referred to as the Furies, plague his mind and lure him further into insanity. The only character capable of calming Orestes is his sister Elektra (Kyra Weichert), who is also his collaborator in the murder of their mother. We learn that the two siblings murdered their mother to avenge the death of their father, who died at her hands.
The plot follows Orestes and Elektra as they anticipate the death penalty while desperately seeking acquittal for their controversial crime. In the mix of this drama is the sly Menelaus (Isaac Giles) and his haughty newlywed Helen (Larissa Crawley), whose betrayal against Orestes and Elektra leads to yet more vengeance.
Considering Orestes functions as a sequel to Euripides’ earlier play Elektra, in which the murder of Klytaimestra takes place, I was pleased with how easily I caught on to the plot of this play. Having no prior knowledge of Elektra, I found the performance of Orestes to be unambiguous and perfectly understandable.
Despite the play’s underlying misogyny, the character of Elektra is undoubtedly a dominant force. Euripides’ work often features the presence of tortured women; however, Elektra is not confined to the role of a victim. She is a complex character whose intervention fortifies Orestes’ sanity and assists in the plot against Menelaus and Helen. Although Orestes is set in Victorian England, this is no lighthearted parlour comedy. The mood is darkly comedic, hot, and sexual. And while Orestes’ and Elektra’s lives spiral into madness, Apollo (Nathaniel Voll) looks on and laughs.
Weichert demonstrates the strength and dominance required in this leading role. Her acting is passionate, yet controlled. Weichert’s presence lights up the stage as she infuses life into Elektra’s character and solidifies the female influence in this production.
Opposite Weichert is Kinghan in his role as Orestes. Saying that Kinghan is well suited for this role is somewhat of an understatement. His fits of madness throughout the performance, especially in the opening scene, are frighteningly believable.
While watching this performance, I was completely enthralled by the intricate movements and choreography. One moment that stands out to me is the scene in which Elektra accepts her death. She stands with her back to the chorus of Furies, heaving her body forward in a repetitive motion as she sighs. Behind her, the Furies mimic her heaves and sighs in perfect unison, creating a crowd of synchronicity with Elektra front and centre. This moment is a beautiful hyperbole of Elektra’s despair. The body language in this scene, and the rest of the performance for that matter, is exceptionally polished.
Regarding the set, the varying stage levels function well for this performance. The large table placed centre stage not only provides Orestes with a morgue-like resting place in the opening scene, but it also behaves as a platform for several characters to leap upon and deliver enticing monologues. The platforms located on one end of the theatre are a universal stage piece—they act as a podium for Tyndareus (Cameron Grant) when he assumes the role of judge, they provide an offset gathering place for the chorus of Furies, and they’re also an additional spot for characters to loom over each other while giving speeches. The most influential stage level is the balcony that overlooks the theatre. This raised portion of the stage houses Apollo, the god of light and law, who oversees the play’s events as they unfold. From his lofty post, Apollo regulates the actions of his subjects with the loud smacking of his staff against the banner. Voll’s actions also supplement the performance with dramatic effect. On several occasions, he sets into motion a Newton’s cradle, introducing a metronomic beat that sets the pace of the scene happening below.
With Apollo’s intervention throughout the play, particularly in the final scene, Orestes is no exception to Euripides’ trend of “deus ex machina”. Apollo ultimately predetermines the fate of the characters, leaving no room for individual willpower. Orestes therefore contains the lingering theme of determinism—although with the cast mechanically responding to Apollo’s will, this production raises the question of whether or not Orestes is mocking determinism or enforcing it.
Orestes runs until November 1 at the Erindale Studio Theatre.