Thursday, January 21, 2010
"Phedre": ☼ ☼ ☼ baub
Euripides wrote Phaedra in 428 BC in classical Greek. Jean Racine wrote another version of the same story more than two thousand years later, in 1675. They were both referring to the ancient Greek legend of Phaedra, the wife of the immortal Theseus, who fell in love with her own stepson with disastrous results. This look on Hippolytus's face says it all.
In Timberlake Wertenbaker's 2007 English translation of Racine's work, which was commissioned by and is having its World Premiere at A.C.T., guilt is triumphant -- Queen Phedre's sexuality is intolerable to everyone and no randy thought may go unpunished. King Theseus, thought dead but in fact only on vacation in the land of the unliving, has come back to his island kingdom of Trezene to discover that while he was gone his son Hippolytus fell in love with Theseus's political prisoner Aricie, his wife Phedre fell in lust with Hippolytus, the Queen's lady-in-plotting Oenone never stopped stirring up the pot -- really, the place was a mess.
Nobody was very happy to see Theseus back home from the dead. His survivors, so they thought, had neatly divided up the known world amongst themselves and with Theseus's reported death were now free to pursue their dreams and liasons.
But no. The big man is back and now it's all a huge headache. The humans are swimming upstream against an unrelenting river of desire. But they're Catholic, to Racine, or Greek, to Euripides, so nobody can actually DO anything about their lust, except to eventually expire in spasms of shame.
RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ baub
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Phedre" Three Stars with a bauble of shame. The audience kept snickering throughout the first act (in the lobby after the show many were heard asking their fellows "this isn't supposed to be a comedy, is it?") because the characters, in their powerlessness and profound angst, seemed almost to be parodying themselves. The audience was not being unkind -- they seriously thought that overwrought line or this horrified grimace must be some kind of joke. So they laughed.
Christina Poddubiuk's set is enticing but spare, while original music by David Lang is even sparer. James F. Ingalls's lighting is used in effective touches.
Tom McCamus, as Theseus, was the only character with the ability to actually say what was on his mind. He was terrific, but, of course, his character is the one whose actual call to action ruins everything and destroys everybody's life.
In other words, suffer and the Gods will let you slide, but act upon your desire and you may as well pack up your sandals and head straight for Hades. C'est du Grecque pour moi.
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Through Feb. 7