Bohemian Theatre Ensemble stays true to universal themes of Greek tragedy

By William Chyr

Of the seven surviving plays by Sophocles, Electra is notable for its prominent female characters and examinations of justice. It is emotionally charged and universal in its portrayal of human nature. In the latest adaptation by the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, this classic story of a woman thirsting for revenge against her mother is brought to life in a presentation that is beautiful and honest in its depiction of the characters.

Based on a Greek myth, Sophocles’s play begins with the return of Orestes (Eddie Bennett) to Mycenae to avenge the death of his father Agamemnon at the hands of his mother Clytemnestra (Deanna Boyd). Meanwhile, his sister Electra (Elizabeth Christine Tanner) spends her days mourning for her father and crying for justice, rejecting the counsel of others to give up and comply. As Electra’s emotions fly from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high, the discovery of Orestes’s return leads the siblings to plot the revenge they’ve desired for so long.

The production is fairly traditional. Set in its original time period, the characters are dressed in Greek garb and the set is minimalist. In her note to the audience, director Lara Tibble writes, “Rather than create a radical and ‘modern’ alteration of the story, this re-telling strives to show how universal the piece already is.” This goal is certainly achieved. Despite how different the characters’ language and clothing are from the culture of today, one still cannot help but become absorbed in their situation and be captivated by their psychology and emotions.

A series of tableaus serve as the prologue of the play, revealing the background story and also showing the emotional tension that already exists among the main characters. These tableaus are beautifully set up, involving an intricate play of lights and shadows. An atmosphere of mystery and stealth is established right away, with the silhouette of bodies bathing in a gentle magenta light.

The set consists mainly of a revolving piece at the center of the stage which is rotated to indicate changes in location. This piece is used very effectively, sometimes showing two simultaneous events, rotating characters, and even helping to build dramatic tension. The music, original pieces by Paul Auksztulewicz and Matthew Dunn, add a Mediterranean feel to the ambience. Created with a variety of instruments—including a zither, a violin, and gongs—the accompanying tracks are both lyrical and effective. Not only do they set the mood for several key scenes, they are nicely balanced with the language and do not detract from but intensify it.

Of course, a strong cast is what makes a performance, and the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble definitely does not fall short. The language is expressed clearly, the tension is played out well, and the characters are all well portrayed. A chorus of women symbolizing Electra’s Past, Present, and Future (Zanny Laird, Roseanne Clark, and Brooke Sherrod) deliver their lines with a mixture of chants and songs, nicely depicting both Electra’s internal thoughts and the conflicting opinions that surround her choices. Bennett, as Orestes, shows us a man who is nervous at the immensity of the task before him but still has the strength of will to face it. His demonstrations of love to Electra are pure and brotherly, and his pain at the sight of his sister mourning is distinctly expressed in his face. In addition, Boyd’s Clytemnestra fully plays out the seductive nature of her character, showing how she is able to exert control over her aggressive lover Aegisthus (Jose Antonio Garcia).

Tanner’s vivid portrayal of the tragic heroine presents us with an Electra who, despite all that has befallen her, maintains a strong sense of dignity. Her Electra is passionate, desperate, and seems at times to border on insane. But throughout the play, she is a woman of strength and endurance, with a level of intensity that carries in her words and shines through her eyes.

All in all, this is a very solid production. Using a classical rendition of this 2,500-year-old play, the production highlights its universality and still keeps a modern-day audience engaged. It is beautiful in several respects, and it delivers Sophocles’ powerful message in its original glory.