Yes, and it was terrific. The text is a collection of boobytraps for the director, and Stephen Wadsworth navigated around them with style.
Aeschylus was notoriously incoherent, even to his contemporaries. Robert Browning’s 1877 translation recreated the effect in English:
Shall he we know of bring the hard about
To soft …
Robert Fagles’s 1975 translation—the one they used last night—turns it all into a modernist poem, with fragmented lyric passages peppered with outbursts of blunt straight talk. It’s the most readable by far.
Wadsworth clarified things by engaging creatively with another problem area—the Chorus. In addition to having three Chorus Leaders, much of the choral material was taken by the whole ensemble—the Watchman, Herald, the principals. Even Electra and Iphegenia participated. It gave the different moods and contradictory outbursts of the choral material the feel of crowd chatter, which was apt.
These extra characters also helped clarify the longer narrative speeches with mimed action. Just enough to help those whose knowledge of history of the House of Atreus isn’t perfect.
They also repeated lines to emphasize a point, especially “Cry, cry for death, but good win out in glory in the end.” The musical effect for this most operatic of plays was just right.
The cast executed their enormous static speeches with panache, grappled with the knotty passages courageously, and generally found the right middle ground between naturalistic acting and poetry-recitation.
Burton Curtis got the play off to a good start as the Watchman. It's an arduous part: pages and pages of soliloquy with no context. But he made it work.
Delroy Lindo was a perfect Agamemnon—impressive, vain, touchy and clueless. He managed to make speeches like
is Leda’s daughter, the keeper of my house.
And the speech to suit my absence, much too long.
But the praise that does us justice,
let it come from others, then we prize it.
seem both funny, realistic and pathetic.
As Cassandra, Francesca Faridany was aware of the fact that she possessed the one theatrically surefire scene in the play. She extracted maximum terror from her delirious
The roofs--look up--there is a dancing troupe
that never leaves. And they have their harmony
but it is harsh, their words are harsh, they drink
beyond the limit. Flushed on the blood of men
their spirit grows and none can turn away
their revel breeding in the veins--the Furies!
They cling to the house for life. They sing,
sing of the frenzy that began it all,
strain rising on strain, showering curses
on the man who tramples on his brother’s bed.
It was horrifying. Though I don’t sympathize with them for a minute, by the time she was through it was no surprise the Getty’s neighbors objected to the mayhem.
The three actors playing the Chorus Leaders successfully managed to be obtuse and unhelpful without being boring. Nicholas Hormann extracted a gasp from the audience with
Fire comes and the news is good,
it races through the streets
but is it true? Who knows?
Or just another lie from heaven?
A couple of millennia old, and still pretty racy. Can you imagine the response if Obama or McCain had said anything like that on the debate that same evening?
Timothy V. Murphy seethed attractively as Aegisthus, raving in a broad brogue about “the carrhs of joostus.”
Tyne Daly brought Clytaemnestra to uproarious life. She animated her, but didn’t simplify her. In the end the most disturbing thing about Clytaemnestra is that we don’t really know why she murders her husband. We don’t know who she is. All we see in this play is a female politician who makes a sequence of speeches. She makes speeches of thanksgiving to the gods, celebrates the victory over Troy, welcomes her husband home, heaps honors on him, justifies his murder, and warns everyone they will have to put up with her.
Not that she doesn’t identify motives for murdering her husband, she gives a half-dozen: revenge for the killing of Iphegenia, revenge for being left alone for ten years, desire to be with her lover Aegisthus, jealousy of Cassandra, obedience to fate. But which is it? Which is her? All of the above? None? We don’t really know. Unlike Lady Macbeth, we never glimpse the private Clytaemnestra, assuming that such a person exists.
True, there are moments where she seems to let her guard down. She taunts the old men of the Chorus about being a woman in charge:
you have it, what a woman has to say
That is what a woman has to say.
Can you accept the truth?
She gets exasperated with Cassandra—“I have no time to spend outside.” And in the end she announces that she doesn’t care what anyone thinks:
you try me like some desperate woman.
My heart is steel, well you know. Praise me,
blame me as you choose. It’s all one.
Detective Lacey seized on these acidic taunts as moments of impolitic frankness. It was brilliant; amid so much high-brow rhetoric they came across as startling jolts of low-down. They got laughs, and getting laughs out of Aeschylus is quite a trick. But Clytaemnestra remains more than Leona Helmsly in a toga, and Daly courageously engaged her full elusiveness. Watching her navigate the tricky psychology of the part was as exciting as hearing her overcome the ferocious vocal demands of the speeches.
When it was done, we were all stupefied.
Next year’s comedy will be Aristophanes’s Peace. Wouldn't it be nice if it turned out not to be topical?
P.S. The most outrageous political observation of the evening was Clytaemnestra : Agamemnon = Hillary : Obama.