Stratford's Elektra is Stunning

Elektra mourns the death of her father Agamemnon, whose death has left her in the hands of her loathed mother Clytemnestra. Having alienated her sister and unwilling to live under the same roof as the woman who killed her father, Elektra has little to do save suffer the pain of Agamemnon's death and await the vengeance that comes with the arrival of her brother Orestes.

I saw Elektra by Sophokles at the Tom Patterson Theatre on Thursday, prior to last night's opening. It was, I am happy to report, a spectacular effort, with a solid cast and confident direction.

It is impossible to begin praising this production without first mentioning Yanna McIntosh, who plays the title character. Bespectacled and wearing an oversized sweater over her long skirt, her Elektra is far from the preconceived notions a modern audience may have of goddess dresses and attractive tears. She does not mourn passively. She beats the ground, she growls at the sky, and offers prayers for her father with every breath. McIntosh turns in a supernatural performance as this woman who fixates on the single act of brutality that she has witnessed, and cannot let it go forgotten.

With such a strong leading performance, it would be very easy for the rest of the cast to get lost in the shuffle. However, the supporting actors all turn in extremely committed and physical performances. Peter Hutt is a stand-out as the old man who accompanies Ian Lake's pensive Orestes and E.B. Smith's riveting and silent Pylades. Laura Condlln does a great job with the thankless role of Elektra's passive-aggressive sister Chrysosthemis, and Seana McKenna is great fun as Clytemnestra (I have never heard someone die with so much perverse glee before). Graham Abbey as Aigisthos very sleazy, which is interesting, but a bit of a let-down given how much build-up the character gets in the text prior to his very late appearance.

But particularly remarkable about this Elektra is the Chorus, a dedicated corps of actresses who slip effortlessly between speech and song, the stage and the audience. Their a capella harmonies are woven effectively into the text, and often they provide the beats for characters in the play to say their speeches to. Their feet are covered in red dust, presumably a vestige of the pottery they've broken to get some glimpse of what comes ahead. They, along with choreographer Amalia Bennett and composer Kornilios Selamsis deserve kudos for some of the best ensemble work I've seen in ages.

I was skeptical of the set by Ellie Papageorgakopoulou at first; the extreme thrust of the Tom Patterson is fenced off, separating the audience and sometimes the Chorus from the action of the piece. Garbage bags and graffiti adorn the walls of the house of Agamemnon, whose statue lies broken on three glass backlit tables on the stage. It reminded me of some more unfortunate high-concept productions of operas in Eastern Europe. However, I was fully invested in this world before long.

Director Thomas Moschopoulos has produced a visceral and sleek production that has the vitality of a work that has just been discovered, not a play one can find in any compendium of Ancient Greek drama. He exhibits an innate understanding not only of the play, but what makes it exciting and relevant to today's world, which is an understanding that is often lost by directors in the Classical vein. The translation by Canadian playwright Anne Carson is a perfect fit for this show, lacking pretense or formality and yet still majestic.

I recommend this show highly to anyone who wants to see something exciting at Stratford. Even if the play seems static on paper, it is brought to vivid life by the cast and creatives. I went with my father, who had never seen an Ancient Greek play in any media before, and he adored it as much as I did.

This is a play that is part of the aftermath of the Trojan War, so some knowledge of that subject may be desirable. However, people who come to this show who are new to these stories will be bought up to speed over the course of the evening.

Elektra runs until September 29 at the Tom Patterson Theatre. For more information on ticket availability, the cast and creatives, or the play itself, see its page here.

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