After 14 seasons of new and often experimental theater, Baltimore’s Mobtown Players is busy re-inventing itself this fall with a slate of classics. If the opening night of Euripides’ Electra on September 7, 2012 sounded a note more of promise than triumph, it still reaffirmed this venue as Baltimore’s “little theater that could.”
The re-invention stretches to new acting talent and even a first-time director. Small wonder the reach, in this case, exceeds the grasp.
Scenes from the story of Electra and her vengeful brother Orestes decorate the fronts of urns 2,500 years old. So give our homegrown company kudos for even picking a mainstay of Greek tragedy, then deciding to underline its contemporary ties with a modern-dress production.
College boys in torn jeans and coeds in flip-flops mix freely on stage with the black-clad Electra, who spends much of her time roiling over a fate that has left her and her brother Orestes in virtual banishment. She knows her mother Clytemnestra betrayed them by conspiring in the murder of their father, so she is primed for revenge when Orestes comes calling.
A passing reference to Electra’s place of exile as a “country home” was all that Set Designer Jessica Ruth Baker needed to order up a suburban backyard, complete with picket fence and a brick barbecue.
The approach may be distracting to literalists, who might wonder about the peculiarities of the text’s many allusions to ritual sacrifices, the reading of entrails as omens, and the interbreeding of gods and mortals, among other popular subjects. What exactly do they grill on that outdoor barbecue – fatted calf?
The production has a very bright acting light in the title role. During her hurricane-force performance, Chantia Jackson summons up rage and tears and unbounded joy, with brief stops at nearly every emotion in between. Jackson puts the live in live theater and if you need any added reason to re-friend Euripides, Jackson will do nicely.
Debuting as director here is longtime Mobtown producer Lizzie Jump, who makes an almost fatal error by putting the play’s two pages of scene-setting exposition in the mouth of a foreign-born actor.
Daniel Douek is a captivating presence and possesses genuine comic skills, so it’s easy to see why he was given a prominent role in the cast. But trying to pluck out all those unwieldy Greek names and actions from Douek’s thick Argentine English proves a challenge fit for Ulysses.
The director needs to also clamp down on all the distracting emoting going on in the background when the focus should remain tightly on the leads.
Also among the leads, Eric Boelsche as Orestes has an easy manner on stage that would be more effective with less shuffling and unmotivated moves. And Deb Carson comes off appropriately regal and aloof as the blood-soaked Clytemnestra.
Overall, this is an accessible and entertaining community production that could have been the first course in a classic meal but ends up more of an appetizer.
Electra plays through September 29, 2012 at Mobtown Theatre at Meadow Mill -3600 Clipper Mill Road – Suite 114, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with one Sunday matinee Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 general, $12 for students.