Review: ‘Electra’ at Villanova University, in Villanova, PA

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The mists of ancient history paint the birth of theater as religious ritual that gradually transmuted into drama.The Ancient Greeks always considered attending a play festival as a religious act and Villanova’s version of Sophocles’ Electra captures the ancient and the modern in a pleasing synthesis.

Kara Krichman. Photo by Paula Nogueras.
Kara Krichman. Photo by Paula Nogueras.

Directed with a powerful hand by Reverend David Cregan, OSA, PhD, the evening is a triumph of drama and design. Rajiv Shah’s setting is a simple stairway leading to a majestic marble palace. The stage is painted an imposing cloudy blue. The barefoot cast sweeps quietly in Janus Stefanowicz basic but evocative period costumes, that blend seamlessly with Jerold R. Forsyth’s beautifully dramatic lighting. John Stovicek has created a sound scheme of flutes, plucked strings and female voices that adds immeasurably to the otherworldly experience.

The Greek chorus is a group of young women, friends of Electra, who dance, sing, and effectively accompany the odes with various hand claps, floor strikings, as well as mysterious hisses and shrieks.

The story, based on ancient legend is a complicated one. Electra, daughter of King Agamemnon, mourns his death to the point of madness. Her father was murdered by her mother, Clytemnestra, who has taken a new lover during the lengthy Trojan War. Electra steadfastly prays to the gods for the return of her long lost brother, Orestes, who will enact the revenge that will end the curse upon the House of Atreus. Sophocles was the first playwright to see tragedy from a feminine viewpoint, and the women’s fears and emotions command the proceedings.

This version is the adaptation of Frank McGuinness, the Irish poet and playwright, best known to American audiences for Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, which played on Broadway. His Electra also played Princeton and Broadway with Zoe Wanamaker in the title role. McGuinness’ poetry is virile, subtly rhythmic and evocative in its imagery, with a vocabulary that is easier for modern audiences to understand than the more complex original. He also adds more exposition to the opening scenes for audiences who may not be as familiar with the story as the Ancient Greeks.

Electra is one of the great classic roles and Kara Krichman is up to the challenge. She has the vocal technique and the stature of a true tragedienne who drives the poetry with the deep-seated hatred that compels Electra to her horrific revenge. The scream she emits when she hears of her brother’s death is bone-chilling.

Megan Slater and Kara Krichman. Photo by Paula Nogueras.
Megan Slater and Kara Krichman. Photo by Paula Nogueras.

Nearly as good is Megan Slater as the Queen of Mycenae, Clytemnestra. Her retelling of the various wrongs visited upon her by her husband makes one almost sympathetic to his murder. Although Krichman and Slate are the standouts among the student cast, the powerful hand of Director Cregan drives the evening to its tragic conclusion.

This Electra may not have the emotional impact of the Strauss/Hoffmannstahl opera, but is evocative and memorable on its own terms.

Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.

Electra plays through Sunday October 2, 2016 at the Vasey Hall Theatre of Villanova University – 800 East Lancaster Avenue, in Villanova, PA. For tickets call (610) 519-7474, or purchase them online.

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Neal Newman
Over the past 40 years, Neal Newman has directed extensively in classical, Shakespeare, modern theater, musicals, and opera. He trained as an actor at California State University, and trained in Shakespeare at ACT of San Francisco. He trained as a director at Carnegie Mellon, and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He directed many Off-Broadway productions in New York, ran a summer stock company, and directed five seasons of Shakespeare in the Park in Philadelphia, and many opera and Gilbert & Sullivan productions. He was a New York Critic for Show Business Magazine for 7 years, and has written for many local papers and websites. He is co author of 'GOLDILOCKS AND THE DOWN HOME BEARS' presented at Steel River Playhouse, and will soon present a reading of the new musical 'LITTLE PRINCESS.'