“Agamemnon” is a harbinger of good things to come
|Dream Theatre presents:|
|Written/Directed by Jeremy Menekseoglu
at Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street (map)
through April 11th (more info | tickets)
|reviewed by Ian Epstein|
Though it might fool you, Dream Theatre’s Agamemnon is not nearly as dusty as, judging by its title, it seems. Artistic Director Jeremy Menekseoglu dons his actor/writer hat in this show as both the playwright and the male lead in the role of the homeward bound Greek title character: Agamemnon. Menekseoglu’s is a retelling of Agamemnon’s homecoming. It is told from a decidedly claustrophobic point of view that recasts Aeschlyus’ tragedy as a nautical No Exit played out between Agamemnon and a feisty, fluid-moving Cassandra (Courtney Arnett) who Agamemnon has found molested by one of his own Greek soldiers in the temple of Athena. He offs the soldier and sets out to seduce Cassandra in the confines and comfort of his General’s berth on board his Greece-bound ship.
Cassandra is the prophet no one believes or she’s a notable slave or she’s spill-over Trojan war spoils – this is the Cassandra to whom Apollo gave prophecy and the unfortunate condition that no one will believe what she foretells, so she stumbles forward into a future she can plainly predict, only able to retell her sad and tattered past. Her predicament is made worse by the fact that the sea drowns out her gift and leaves her reeling like just another drunk sailor at sea. In one of the plays intense, narrative monologues (there are several), Cassandra paints the traumatic picture of her six year old self, whisked off by an Apollo with questionable motives.
The play is an examination of Stockholm syndrome – where a captive falls in love with or takes the side of the captor – as much as it’s an exercise in mining one of Aeschylus’ classical dramatic texts for something relevant to audience’s today. And Dream Theatre is big on starting this experience the moment you step through the door. Members from the Chorus of Cassandra (Anna Weiler, Alicia Reese, and Molly Gray) greet all theatre-goers speaking a heightened language and looking like they’re on loan from the underworld. They solicit the audience member with mandatory chocolate candies then ask which show they’ve come to see before insisting that they’ve come to see Cassandra and not that other one.
Giau Truong and Anna Weiler collaborated on the set, and the effort shows in intricate, room-filling attention to decaying, wooden detail that evokes a nautical, underwater feel. Jeremy Menekseoglu also has his imprimatur on the sound design, which illustrates what the inside of a prophet’s mind sounds like with nail-biting, wince-inducing clarity. At other times, the sound design mimics fuzzy radio, with American dance music filtering through the air-waves and into Agamemnon’s regal berth. Agememnon tries to impress his captive audience by dancing a sloppy, drunken Black Bottom. Unimpressed, Cassandra whips out a performance-perfect Charleston that knocks Agamemnon on his ass. "Where’d you learn to dance like that?" he asks – "Delphi" she replies.
On the whole, Agamemnon is an odd and oddly fresh performance that hits intriguing notes. Menekseoglu and Arnett both deliver performances admirable in their intensity. It’s intimate and foreign; funny one moment and then frightening the next. It uses melodrama as a technique and not by accident. But the blend of heightened language with profanity and everyday speech still gets in the way. The attempts at many of the poetic moments feel overdone, prosaic, and closer to the 2,500 year old source-text than most moments in the rest of the show. A trait that may make the show a fuller experience for dramaphiles already familiar with the myth that Menekseoglu is molding.
As a first installment, Agamemnon is a harbinger of good things to come. It will certainly be exciting to watch as Menekseoglu steers the Dream ensemble through the next two plays of his Agon Trilogy. (see performance dates fore next 2 parts of trilogy after the fold.)