June 9—July 23, 2006
Directed by Frédérique Michel
Production Design by Charles A. Duncombe
Cast: Ed Baccari, Justin Davanzo, Troy Dunn, David E. Frank, Maximiliano Molina, Bo Roberts, Ben Shields, Marie-Françoise Theodore, Ilana Turner
LA WEEKLY — PICK OF THE WEEK
Wednesday, June 15-21, 2006
Charles L. Mee’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ Greek tragedy (the first in this theater’s season, called ‘Three by Mee’) concentrates, like Homer’s The Odyssey, on the impulses behind cruelty and war. This is the story of the eponymous general (Troy Dunn) upon his return from a 10-year military campaign to his wife, Clytemnestra (Marie-Françoise Theodore), who seethes that her husband sacrificed their daughter to the gods for favorable sea winds.
Frédérique Michel stages the play as a choreographed recitation, with a Greek chorus of what appear to be decapitated heads, one of which is a figurehead bust, bolted to the stem of a boat. Michel juxtaposes the violence of the words with, for her, an uncharacteristically gentle staging – as sensuous as it is disciplined in movement and tone, so that the barbaric epic unfolds with a blend of eroticism, religiosity and moments of ironic humor.
This is one of the most rarefied and beautiful productions around, aided by shifting, projected images of ancient stone in Charles A. Duncombe’s production design, and recordings of Arvo Pärt’s haunting choral backdrops.
LA TIMES — RECOMMENDED
June 16, 2006
(capsule) Frédérique Michel’s keenly syncopated staging and Charles A. Duncombe’s striking production design highlight Charles L. Mee’s sanguinary reconsideration of the Agamemnon legend — the first in an ambitious season of three Greek tragedies by Mee. Vaultingly poetic in tone, Mee’s passionately antiwar drama is timely and resonant, despite an occasional lapse into gratuitous overstatement. (F. Kathleen Foley)
(full review) Agamemnon’s’ Antiwar Polemic
Charles L. Mee is a generous playwright. Mee urges readers of his plays, many of which are posted on his website, to freely borrow from his work, as he has freely borrowed from the ancient Greek dramas that have so richly inspired him.
“Agamemnon” – the first offering in City Garage’s ambitious season of three radically considered Greek classics by Mee – is a generous play, vaultingly poetic and rich, as was “Big Love,” Mee’s surprisingly humorous tale of forced marriage and mass murder based on Aeschylus’ “The Danaides.” Of course, “Agamemnon” treats the legend of Agamemnon’s homecoming after the Trojan War, and his subsequent murder by his vengeful wife, Clytemnestra. Far grimmer in tone, for obvious reasons, “Agamemnon” poses the salient question: Is it ever possible to overstate the horrors of war?
A bucket of bloody eyeballs later, we conclude that it is. Granted, Homer didn’t cut corners on sanguinary description in “The Iliad.” But Mee’s antiwar polemic, however timely and resonant, occasionally lapses into gratuitous overstatement.
That seems a quibble, in light of Mee’s passion and craft, but it does shatter our empathy at intervals. Not so Frédérique Michel’s razor-sharp staging, which is as effectively spare as a Zen sand garden, inspiring our contemplation, if not our serenity. A crack cast fulfills Michel’s vision without a motion to spare. Troy Dunn is a likely Agamemnon, the conquering hero who has angered the gods, while Clytemnestra (Marie-Françoise Theodore) is as scary as she is seductive.
Charles A. Duncombe’s inspired production design features a chorus of “disembodied” human heads – actually actors whose bodies are cunningly concealed by the set. It’s an uncanny effect echoing recent beheadings in the Middle East, a bitter reminder of how little mankind has changed over the course of the centuries. (F. Kathleen Foley)
KCRW’s THEATRE TALK
June 29, 2006
In Medias Res
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.
It’s a gimmick as old as Homer: starting in the middle of a story. The City Garage in Santa Monica is staging two works from Charles Mee‘s quartet of plays titled “Imperial Dreams“–but they’re starting with Part III and then coming back to Part I later this year. FrÈdÈrique Michel‘s company is known for doing things differently, but mounting Mee’s metrology in medias res isn’t avant-garde posturing–it’s downright old-fashioned… and appropriate, as Homer himself is one of the characters in Mee’s Agamemnon.
The program notes read: “Mee tears apart and reconstructs the classic tragedy by Aeschylus.” Now, this is avant-garde posturing. Mee may reconstruct classic works, but he doesn’t tear them apart. His method isn’t violent, it’s celebratory and playful. His magnanimous style breathes life into plays from the past, using today’s language and music to retell these familiar stories.
As staged by Michel and her designer Charles A. Duncombe, Mee’s Agamemnon is a solemn affair. One that’s bathed in blue light, suggesting lonely nights spent staring out at the Mediterranean Sea. The play opens with a nude Clytemnestra reclining in an empty tub. Without clothes, it’s instantly clear that Michel’s vision of Clytemnestra is the opposite of Mee’s, whose stage directions describe her as “pale white, as the moon.”
Casting the dark, voluptuous Marie-Françoise Theodore is more than just a gimmick however, as the actress strongly conveys Clytemnestra’s grief and bitterness. Likewise, the Greek chorus of severed heads might seem like a cheap effect when described, but in the context of Michel’s staging it’s underplayed and sustains a quiet power throughout the 70-minute performance.
The director can’t help drawing parallels between the Trojan War and the current war in Iraq, but whatever one’s opinions about either campaign, Frédérique Michel’s realization of Charles Mee’s play is as poetic as it is political. Her Agamemnon is haunting, and often beautiful. It’s also a rare local example of serious, European-style director’s theater. The first installment of City Garage’s “Three by Mee” season suggests that Agamemnon is the start–or middle–or something big. Charles Mee’s Agamemnon runs through August 6 at City Garage in Santa Monica.
This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.