Wednesday, November 03, 2010

THEATER: Electra in a One-Piece

Photo/Sam Hough

What has made the classic Greek tragedies so enduring? If you listen to Buddy Cox (Michael Brusasco), a television producer, it's all about violence: it sells, and he wants a piece of the pie being brewed in the dueling YouTube narratives of angry daughter Elle (Amanda Scot Ellis) and her unabashedly murderous mother, Clyt (Erika Rolfsrud). Sadly, if you listen to Isaac Oliver's Electra in a One Piece, you get much the same sense of people trying to dip their hands into a well-established pie. There are a few ambitious scenes, but they're largely lost in this tarted-up Electra for the modern age, amidst a Chorus of electronic comments and literal poster-boys (Chris Bannow, Austin Mitchell, and Ian McWethy provide voices for the posters of Jude Law, Justin Timberlake, and Zac Efron on Elle's wall) and a series of overcooked comic rants, like those of Clyt's very young, very stupid pool-boy lover, Thus (Mitchell), who is amped to be the man of the house.

Ignoring the distraction of Clyt's timid book-club friends Ethel (Melanie Hopkins) and Rhoda (played, for some reason, as a man, Matt Park) and glossing over the played-for-laughs-not-heart struggle of Ore (Bannow), who takes his willing best friend Lad (McWethy) as a lover in order to get discharged from the military so that he might return home to kill his mother, the core of Electra in a One-Piece works rather well. Popularity and appearances are flimsy covers for the underlying needs for love and acceptance, so the fact that both Elle and Clyt turn to YouTube before one another is rather telling, and unique to this day and age. And while characters like Cox and the placatingly grating therapist Patrice (Hopkins) are ancillary at best, they do at least spur the two into some terrifically once-removed conflicts, most notably a sequence in which Elle's attempts to stage a funeral for her father--bad poetry, water-soaked flowers, and all--are undercut by stage-mother Clyt, who attempts to make her daughter's fake grief look better . . . leading, at last, to a real confrontation.

Oliver's script wanders all over the place--much like the social media he's toying with--but David Ruttura is on-point, with a consistent (albeit twee) tone to his direction. That's assisted by Kenneth Grady Barker's lovely scenic design, which packs two bedrooms and a swimming pool onto a narrow stage by toying with the scale of them, making a clever point of how we tend to fill in the blanks when we're given only slivers of the whole thing. But despite these solid tricks, Electra in a One-Piece, like the on-stage pool, remains shallow, and by the end of the play, once drained of all the mythology and is left with just Oliver's consequences, the problematic construction is all too clear. The final murders mean nothing, there's a lack of resolution, and the jokes have long since dried up: perhaps what made the Greek tragedies last wasn't the violence, but the catharsis.

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