With all those chorus hotties around, what's the slave in the middle (Douglas Lay) have to be so unhappy about?
The buzz is that Apollo, the Greek god of prophecy, once stole Zeus' chariot. Down here, that's kinda like the town bully knocking up the mayor's daughter and then walking out on the whole thing. Apollo commanded respect among the humans because he simply appropriated it—what he said went, dammit, and if you didn't carry out his directions in the morning, you'd be wearing your sorry butt for a hat by quarter to 2 that afternoon. The mortal Orestes, for example, iced his own mom on Apollo's advice, leaving Orestes to claim as a trial defense that he was just following orders.
Maybe it's the din from the heel plates on the chorus' shoes. Or the chorus itself, a collection of dew-eyed, mega-dumb blondes decked out in black. Or the thought of Apollo as a game-show host. Or Helen of Troy as a mannequin. Or her husband Menelaus as an aging homophile. Or the curtain call, which finds the cast taking its bows ass-first. In any case, The Theatre, Inc. has done a remarkable job with its current and grandly funny Orestes, centering on the murder of Clytemnestra. Douglas Lay's direction and the Marianne McDonald / J. Michael Walton translation of Euripides' script invite the chaos taking place—the fact that the chaos escalates so evenhandedly is a tribute to the true ensemble feel this cast creates. Everybody's on precisely the same page, punctuation and all.
Orestes (played punch-drunk and perfectly by lanky John Polak) killed his mother Clytemnestra as payback for her role in the death of Agamemnon, Orestes' dad. Eventually, Apollo (Lay) takes the lead role in Orestes' exoneration, but not before a hostage-taking involving Hermione (Diana Sparta), Orestes' cousin and ditzoid former fiancée. Honor and loyalty are two serious themes here—but they're couched in wholesale irreverence for the rule of law. Somehow, Lay orchestrates it all while playing three roles himself; meanwhile, the McDonald / Walton translation is unflappable—the crazier things get, the less flashy the dialogue becomes, fueling the hysteria anew. Fred Harlow's Menelaus is hilariously stylized, in the spirit of the rest of the show. And those heel plates!
Classic plays didn't get to be classics because they're great (Cymbeline bites serious crotch, yet some call it a classic because Shakespeare wrote it) or even because they're old (Peter Shaffer's The Royal Hunt of the Sun, from as late as 1964, is an absolutely magnificent work for the ages). They got that way because, among other things, they inspire wildly out-of-the-box translations and treatments. That's The Theatre's take on all its fare—and with Orestes, the group has mounted one of its best illustrations yet.
This review is lovingly dedicated to the memory of Chrissie Pickett. It's based on the opening-night performance of Feb. 20. Orestes runs through March 21 at The Theatre, Inc., 899 C St. Downtown. $22-$25. www.thetheatreinc.com Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.