Aeschylus' Oresteia by Aeschylus
Translated by Marianne McDonald & J. Michael Walton
“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” said Gandhi. Come see the first dramatic articulation of human rights: Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Bloodshed leads to bloodshed, but negotiation may bring an end to this murderous cycle of vengeance. In one evening, you see a pageant of human passions, retribution, and the indomitable human spirit that triumphs in the end. 6th at Penn delivers once again theatre for the mind and soul, in tune with the heartbeat of mankind.
Aeschylus’s Oresteia is the first dramatic articulation of human rights: bloodshed leads to bloodshed, but negotiation may bring an end to this murderous cycle of vengeance. Performed in 458 BC, this trilogy is the only surviving ancient Greek trilogy. Its key message is in this choral passage:
Zeus, who showed man the path of knowledge, Decreed he must learn through suffering; He drips the pain of remembered sorrow Into the hearts of sleepless men, And even the unwilling gain understanding. This is the violent grace of the gods, Who sit on high like helmsmen, Guiding the course of man.
Murder follows murder in the first two plays as Clytemnestra avenges Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter so the Greeks could win at Troy; she also avenges his bringing home the concubine Cassandra, a Trojan princess; lastly, she embodies the curse that lies on the house of Atreus since Thyestes was served his own children in a bloody feast as another act of vengeance. Orestes kills in turn, avenging his father, and punishing his mother for taking a lover. Agamemnon and Orestes both claimed that the killings they committed were sanctioned by the gods. Are the gods also to blame?
The third play shows the establishment of a law court. The presiding judge a goddess turns to humans for help. It is a sanctioning of the democratic process. Will this cycle ever end? So far man seems not to have learned the lessons suffering was to teach. But one day long ago, the Greeks at least had hope that plays could teach what history seems to have failed to teach. And if they can’t, at least they can entertain by telling a good story, a story that comes from the inner recesses of the human mind and heart at the time that civilization was born.
Marianne McDonald, Ph.D., MRIA
Douglas Lay (Director/Costumer)
Dirk Stanger (Watchman/Pylades)
Fred Harlow (Veteran Chorus)
Steve Jensen (Veteran Chorus)
Doug Hoehn (Veteran Chorus)
Sylvia Enrique (Chlytemnestra)
Chris Fonseca (Talthybius/Aegisthus)
Donal Pugh (Agamemnon/Apollo)
Monique Gaffney (Cassandra / Athena)
Joshua Zar (Orestes)
Tiffany Jane (Electra)
Leti Carranza (Slave Chorus/Fury)
Jamie Bock (Women's Chorus/Fury)
Christine Hillman (Women's Chorus/Fury)
Katie Sapper (Women's Chorus/Fury)
Sarah Knapp (Women's Chorus/Fury)
Marianne McDonald (Translator)
Chris Thomas (Stage Manager)
Vince Sneddon (Set Design/Build)
Eusevio Cordova (Sound Designer)
"Best chorus I've seen yet for a Greek tragedy at 6th at Penn. It's a gripping trilogy and is well paced. Passionate Clytemnestra, strong Agamemnon, and moving Cassandra."
- Athol Fugard, Playwright -
6th@Penn Theatre presented the blood-soaked Aeschylus trilogy Oresteia and allowed crimson to stain the stage repeatedly. After an astute and accessible translation by Dr. Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton, Director and Costume Designer Douglas Lay infused the production with brilliant strokes that will herald this production as the best Greek drama to date at this local.
This is not your ‘it started on a dark and dreary night’ thriller but it has enough screams and skirmishes in the drama to curdle fresh milk within a nanosecond. The Aeschylus trilogy brings out the worst/best from the House of Atreus and gifts the audience with rapid-fire storytelling by the principals as well as the best set of Greek choruses I have ever heard in some time. This macabre historical introspection is played out remarkably well on the stage of this small black-box theatre.
The Veteran Chorus (Fred Harlow, Steve Jensen and Doug Hoehn) moved exceedingly well considering their employment of a walker, crutches, and darkened glasses. Their elocution was remarkable; varied and well paced. Their emotions were contained and felt natural to the circumstances that they witnessed and upon which they reported.
The Slave Chorus/Fury (Leti Carranza, Jamie Bock, Christine Hillman, Katie Saper and Sarah Knapp) was costumed in black and then red, accompanied with lanterns or chains and painted faces. They crawled or otherwise moved across or upon the stage with ease; chanting and narrating and singing, all the while hitting all their vocal marks.
I didn’t notice any credit in the program given up for choreographer or music coach so I’ll just tip my hat up to Mr. Lay and if he wants to pass on any credit to others, I will send my regards to her/them.
This trilogy highlighted the best characters that a few drachmas could buy during this era: Clytemnestra (Sylvia Enrique), Agamemnon/Apollo (Dónal Pugh), Orestes (Joshua Zar), Electra (Tiffany Jane), Talthybius/Aegisthus (Chris Fonseca) and Cassandra/Athena (Monique Gaffney). And you really get your devalued dollars worth in this production today. Everything was marked and underscored by thespian exactitude.
Enrique offered moments of pitiful post-mourning and purposeful revenge; Pugh rode upon his metal steed (remarkable construction allowing for Gaffney to be caged below) with a gallant authority; Zar spoke words with a commanding tongue; Gaffney soared on her written notes for both her assigned characters.
Vince Sneedon’s remarkable set construction allowed Director Lay to move his actors from near the ceiling, behind doors, down a squared well, and through the aisle of the theatre. Every inch of available space was used for better effect and I applaud their vision.
This was obviously a labor of love for Lay who also dressed his actors in flowing garb or modern, reminding us well that although times have changed we seem like citizenry continuing to spiral out of control, no matter the country, no matter the language and no matter the religion.
Eusevio Cordoba’s sound design was lovely and hauntingly effective and Mitchell Simkowki’s lighting design directed our attention appropriately, looking for and finding appropriate shadows, screechy glare and subtlety.
Is there ever going to be a time when compassionate decision making will outweigh the daily bloodletting that is rampant and out of control on this planet? Is there ever going to be a time where we will be able to call ourselves enlightened, offering justice and mercy to all? Our planetary leaders seem to have lost the way to such potential enlightenment and only constant reminders such as Oresteia will compel them back into some possible sanity.
- 6th@Penn’s Oresteia is an amazing production -