The Libation Bearers
While The Libation Bearers is one of the earliest full dramas ever performed (458 BCE, as part of the trilogy The Oresteia), its center theme of violence begetting violence as a vicious, unending circle still unfortunately resounds and describes what we see all too often two and half centuries later. This is the second part of a trilogy in which the banished son Orestes returns to seek revenge for his father’s brutal murder. What makes that decision even more difficult is that his mother and her lover are his intended targets as he comes home to atone their horrible act that climaxes the first play of the trilogy. Much of the play is the plotting of the new murders along with much mourning and seeking the gods’ help and blessings.
This scaled-back, rather bare-bones production highlights comparisons to our world by setting the play in an urban, somewhat seedy lot with chain fence and large, colorful graffiti on the walls of surrounding apartments. Modern music blasts from afar throughout much of the play from unseen sources; the music adds appropriately to the tension and the urgency without being over-bearing. The scenes and characters are told in an action comic book manner. What would normally be in larger productions live actors are sometimes just huge, graffiti heads on the near-by walls with larger-than life voices coming from off stage. Much of the wordy ‘action’ takes place in front of a shrine that modern audiences immediately recognize: fading flower and teddy-bears now placed in the chain fence around a make-shift cross.
The extremely slimmed-down, mostly young cast of four is uneven but overall gets the job done. The truly outstanding performance is by afro-haired Tasi Alabastro as Orestes. He embodies the energy, movements, and voice of a comic book character, and yet he does so without losing a genuine sense of realism and authentic anguish of the choices he faces. He is matched by a solid, though sometimes too overdone performance of Helena Clarkson, who as part of the 2-person chorus takes on a street- dwelling, hobbling ‘earth mother’ and who both comforts and agitates-to-action Orestes. The other chorus member, Andrew Chung, over-acts and over-shouts too often his ‘gangsta’ persona; better direction could have corrected the flaws of what is on the verge of being a really good interpretation. The real mismatch of the foursome is Jessica Bettencourt as Electra. As Orestes’s sister, she is either too meek and subdued or too manic and wild to be truly believable.
All in all, for a small community stage, this production is a worthy undertaking; and the performance of Mr. Alabastro in particular is very satisfying.
Rating: 3 E’s
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