by Lynn on October 2, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre
Created by Philip McKee and Tanja Jacobs with Rose Plotek, Ishan Davé and Norah Sadava
Sound by James Bunton
Set and Lighting by Ken Mackenzie
Starring: Ishan Davé
Tanja Jacobs
Philip McKee
Norah Sadava

A fascinating exploration of a classic myth from a contemporary point of view.

The Story. A young playwright-director has written a modern (radical?) take on The Oresteia, the ancient Greek drama about war and revenge, and asks Clytemnestra, who was in the thick of that story, if he could interview her on her thoughts on war and theatre. She agrees.

For context, here is a brief recap of The Oresteia: Agamemnon needs to sail with his army to get Helen back. She was spirited away by her lover. The winds are not helping Agamemnon. The gods say that if he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, they will bring him good winds. He kills his daughter. When Agamemnon returns home, his wife Clytemnestra kills him in revenge for the death of their daughter. Then their son, Orestes, comes home (he was sent away by his mother to protect him) to get justice? Revenge? to kill his mother for killing his father. And on it goes until the gods put a stop to the killing.

The Production
. As we enter the space a woman is quietly ironing a white sheet. She and her ironing board are in the middle of a spare square playing area. At one corner of the square is a table and chair. She folds it over and irons it twice. She folds it carefully and then plops it in the ironing basket.

The playwright-director asks the woman, Clytemnestra, if he can interview her. She agrees, offers him a cup of tea which he accepts but doesn’t drink. He asks her if she feels the theatre can change a life. She says no. He asks if she goes to the theatre. She says no. He offers her an esoteric description of the redemptive abilities of theatre. She looks at him blankly, blinks and again offers an answer he doesn’t expect or want.

I smile. The man, Philip McKee, is talking to Clytemnestra from his modern, intellectual point of view about the theatre. She is replying from her pragmatic Ancient Greek point of view. He wants her to admit that her husband sacrificing their daughter was a terrible thing. She counters by saying that that was the culture, the norm, the proper thing.

He asks why she killed her husband, She says, matter of factly, that she was psychotic. This does not mean she was vengeful. It means she was in another mental state, perhaps not responsible. He suggests that she, Clytemnestra, read a scene with the young actress playing Iphigenia. Then for more accuracy of how this mother would play the scene, McKee suggests that Clytemnestra and Norah Sadava (as Iphigenia) improvise the scene. It is heartfelt, moving, unsettling. Clytemnestra takes the pristine white, ironed sheet and wraps it around Sadava. The sheet is s shroud. Then Clytemnestra carefully pours a red liquid over the head of Sadava that then drips down the sheet. Hence the blood of a sacrificed young daughter.

Orestes arrives ready to avenge his father’s death. Clytemnestra tries to dissuade him. She reasons. She cajoles. She urges him not to do it. She loves him and sent him away for his protection. There was a prophecy that he would kill a member of his family so to challenge the prophecy he was sent away.

McKee as the director of the play within a play suggests something to Clytemnestra that might save the situation and reroute history. She goes for it.

McKee is a quiet, thoughtful actor giving a quiet, thoughtful performance. As Iphigenia, Norah Sadava is sweet, innocent, trusting, and agrees to the sacrifice because that is the culture. As Orestes, Ishan Davé is determined and almost never waivers. He is not a hot head, but he is set on carrying out the revenge for his father’s death because that is the culture. It’s Tanja Jacobs as Clytemnestra that is compelling. Her focus in the ironing, perhaps because she knows what it is she is ironing, and we learn later, is full of sadness, conviction and resignation. When she is conversing with McKee she is matter of fact and treats him like some alien with odd ideas of her world. It is both funny and disjointed. McKee wants to impose his modern sensibility on her ancient Greek way of life, and she’s having none of it.

His fundamental lack of knowing and refusal to accommodate that the belief that gods ruled all ways of life then is perhaps a flaw in the exercise. We moderns, so drenched in our emotions and driven by then, can’t consider a time when other forces, higher forces cancelled emotions when the will of the gods had to be done.

Comment. I can appreciate the desire of the creators of Bloody Family to want to examine and explore the need for war, violence, revenge, justice, and as McKee says, “the pomp and circumstance of war, and the parallel between seeking honourable beliefs through dishonourable action.” Sometimes the disconnect between a way of life and culture from those ancient times and now made for some rough going in credibility, but I was grateful to see the results in any case.

Produced by The Theatre Centre

Opened: September 27, 2014
Closes: October 5, 2014
Cast: 4: 2 men, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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