AGAMEMNON, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

…before any man's child is killed, kill one of your own… --- Hesiod

Charles Mee has taken the hideous prose of war and transposed it into vibrant poetic images which find their fullest expression in the vivid dramatic production given Agamemnon by The City Garage. Director Frederique Michel has created remarkable works in this tiny space. Because it is so small, each word and aspect can be fully absorbed.

The notes of a pipe set the tone for this Greek tragedy against a backdrop as richly blue as the Aegean Sea. The set is balanced by a bathtub in which two naked lovers bathe on the left and a cage containing a captive woman on the right. At the rear of the set three bodiless heads sit on an altar: philosophers Thucydides, Herodotus and Hesiod who narrate and comment. They are joined by Homer's head in the prow of a boat that sits center stage. Behind it to the right is a long black gown on a platform. Characters step behind it at different points reminding us of the power of the feminine in this mostly male cast.

Although the talking heads on stage are male, it is unseen women who impel this tragedy. The powerful general Agamemnon is invading Troy to recapture Helen, the wife of his brother Menelaus, who has run off with Paris, Prince of Troy. Some say that's an excuse for invasion. The troops waiting to embark are restless because no wind has come up to drive their sails. Agamemnon is persuaded to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to bring the winds and, subliminally, to demonstrate that he is willing to sacrifice his own child if they will sacrifice their lives.

Helen and Iphigenia initiate this bloody tale before the play begins and it is left to Clytemnestra, Agememnon's wife, to finish it and revenge her daughter in her husband's blood. Cassandra, Princess of Troy, whom Agamemnon has brought home as his trophy and mistress, expands the horrors of war into a larger picture. With her gifts of prophecy and intuition, she is the character Mee uses to bewail the senselessness of repetitive butchery and the deceit leaders use to impel men to kill and be killed for greed and glory.

There is no happy ending or resolution to this stingingly relevant story. Mee writes that all we can cling to is the human heart's ability to feel, record and remember.

Although the play is only 70 minutes long, it feels thick with imagery. Michel's production brings out the drama in it with spellbinding fascination. The cast's speech patterns are naturalistic, effectively offsetting the heightened poetic imagery. Although the murder of Agamemnon is anticipated, it comes with a suddenness that undercuts the suspense.

The excellent cast is headed by Troy Dunn as a powerful and charismatic Agamemnon, whose mask rarely slides to expose irrevocable mourning for his daughter. Marie-Francoise Theodore plays Clytemnestra with sorrow, dignity and sensuality. Justin Davanzo exudes implacable murderousness as her lover Aegisthus, who has his own vendetta against Agamemnon's House of Atreus. Ilana Turner takes Cassandra one step beyond a princess crazed with grief into the realm of prophetess.

This is the first of three Charles Mee plays inspired by Greek tragedies in The City Garage's "Three by Mee Season." Since Agamemnon has been extended, The Bacchae is now scheduled to open in September, followed by Iphigenia later in the fall.

Playwright: Charles Mee
Director: Frederique Michel
Cast: Ed Baccari (Thucydides), Justin Davanzo (Aegisthus), Troy Dunn (Agamemnon), David E. Frank (Herodotus), Maximiliano Molina (The Messenger), Bo Roberts (Hesiod), Ben Shields (Homer), Marie-Francoise Theodore (Clytemnestra), Ilana Turner (Cassandra)
Set and Lighting Design: Charles A. Duncombe
Costume Design: Josephine Poinsot
Light/Sound Operator: Mark Woods
Running Time: 70 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: June 9-August 6, 2006
Where:. The City Garage, 1340-1/2 Fourth Street (alley), Santa Monica. Reservations: (310) 319-9939
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on July 7.

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