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Shows Worth Seeing:




An Oresteia

Agamemnon, by Aeschylus
Electra, by Sophocles
Orestes, by Euripides
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St.
Box office: 866-811-4111






Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, a cornerstone of our dramatic literature, is the only complete trilogy of Greek tragedies we possess. It tells the story of a string of mythical revenge murders in the House of Atreus that culminates in a climactic trial scene celebrating the Athenian justice system and resolving all the human and cosmic rifts by subordinating the interests of the Female to the Male. CSC Artistic Director Brian Kulick had the provocative idea of dramatizing the same tale using one play by each of the Greek tragedians—constructing an artificial trilogy, in effect, with a very different development and a much more disturbing and inconclusive ending. The result is fascinating and extraordinarily worthwhile. It’s a quirky idea, this “new” trilogy, not least because Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides have such different voices. They deal with similar mythic material but give it entirely different spins, and the first and last plays were written nearly 100 years apart during a century when the Athenian city-state went from imperial self-confidence and civic pride to paralyzing self-doubt and ruinous defeat. Aeschylus’s relationship to the material is lyrical and reverential; his characters are larger than life, giants measuring themselves against enormous forces. Sophocles sees driven and obsessed people rather than giants; his characters live in a recognizable world where moral and immoral choices have force and meaning. Euripides, in contrast, is so disgusted with his society that he treats the myth with sneering satire; his people are puny, devolved into thugs and cutthroats without any recognizable moral bearings—yet, irony of ironies, they are the most like us of all. This was Kulick’s key perception in combining three such disparate plays—that their trajectory exposes a tragic diminution in the profile of the human being that speaks eloquently to what has happened to our self-image. Kulick has also solved the biggest obstacle of all in devising such a project, the lack of stageworthy translations: he commissioned the terrific poet and classics scholar Anne Carson as translator (she’d already done two of the plays and CSC commissioned the third). The productions do have some sags and glitches, but it’s amazing how much is right and clever and entertaining in them. The central performances are extremely strong and the overall effect of the day is overwhelming (I recommend the five-hour marathon viewing). This is just the sort of risky and fresh take on canonical work that CSC should be offering, and it ought to be seen while it’s here.


Rambo Solo
by Pavol Liska, Kelly Copper and Zachary Oberzan
Soho Rep
46 Walker St.
Box office: 866-411-4111

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma belongs to a niche of theatrical avant-gardism that (publicity aside) rarely gets much real respect. I’m speaking of the sort of performance—also seen in the work of Richard Maxwell and the experimental companies Goat Island and Forced Entertainment, for instance—that eschews technical polish, deliberately blurs the boundary between hapless amateurism and professionalism, and generally projects exhaustion with fictional narrative. Perhaps you recently read some discouraging words about Nature Theater’s latest piece, Rambo Solo, in one of our slick mainstream mags. If so, you should dismiss it and hustle down to Soho Rep to judge for yourself. With the audience seated on homey shag carpeting on the theater’s floor, Zachary Oberzan proceeds to explain his longstanding fascination with David Morrell’s pulp novel First Blood, from which the first Rambo movie was adapted. His explanation is so replete with specific details and so packed with intense emotional investment that it soon morphs into an enactment of the entire plot. Oberzan plays a slightly dopey but endearing shlump who acts all the book’s characters, performing or approximating every last martial-arts leap and rifle shot while three different videos of him engaged in similar activity in his tiny studio apartment are seen upstage. He has no expertise at any of these tasks, but that's the point. In the films he plays out the actions with household items as props, and speaks a text identical to the one delivered onstage, pretending the whole time that it’s extemporaneous. The result is a stunningly resonant picture of compensatory obsession and fixation bound to make even those of us not especially enamored of the likes of Morrell think twice about the parts of America modeled on his sort of pulp heroism. Oberzan’s character is too normal to dismiss as a head case and too appealing to dismiss as a bore, so on some level you have to take him to heart, in all his maladroit earnestness. The show is 90 minutes long, takes big risks with deliberate irritation (not least because of audience participation), yet no one in the crowd the night I attended looked irritated when leaving. Quite the contrary. This is just the sort of wonderfully diminutive, DYI-style gem that demonstrates the counter-intuitive promise of a group like Nature Theater’s unpolished approach to theater.



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