Epic theater like Aeschylus’ “The Oresteia” doesn’t come along very often, and usually not with such an enjoyable translation as the one penned by the late British poet laureate Ted Hughes. So it’s all the more disappointing that I can’t be enthusiastic for director Julieanne Ehre’s visually rich yet unaffecting staging of the great Greek revenge trilogy for Greasy Joan & Co. In case you haven’t brushed up on your classics, here’s a summary: King Agamemnon has returned from war, having sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the gods for his victory, and is now about to answer for it with his life to Queen Clytemnestra. Filicide begets homicide begets matricide as long-lost son Orestes teams up with long-suffering sister Electra to murder mom. The final third of the play sees a trial for Orestes in which compelling moral and judicial arguments make it difficult to render a black-and-white verdict. You can see why this drama still plays itself out to varying degrees 2,500 years later every week on ‘Law & Order.” Although the entire production is modern in its dress and sensibility, the contemporary visual touches in the first two parts are subtler and deliver more impact (a blood-red banner with the names of those lost in battle against a two-tiered white-box set; dog tags on wheel chaired veterans; camouflaged cargos for the men and women) and don’t distract from the poetry. But flashy suits for the lawyers in the overlong part three, a tired audience-as-jury participation-staging gimmick and a screaming trio of Furies bludgeoning the audience with obvious present-day judicial parallels rob the play of its raw intensity and ensure that the tragedy and emotion is all but lost in favor of the intellectual. With all due to respect to Mr. Hughes, you’d do better dusting off and re-reading your old copy of Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” for a more moving and complete account. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Gallery 37, 66 E. Randolph, (312)742-8497. Thu-Sat 7:30pm/Sun 3pm (no performance 4/16). $10-$15. Through April 23.