a kate west review
by Geoff Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott
at A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand
Blvd. Glendale 91204
running April 8 - May 29, 2005; contact (818) 240-0910
Becomes Electra" by Eugene O'Neill is as darkly oppressive as the tortured
author's life itself. Born in the late 1880's, O'Neil endured a troubled and unstable
home. Unhappy and bitter all of his life, he died in 1953, convinced that life
was generally miserable. Adapted with stunning clarity from the Oresteia Trilogy
by Greek Tragedian Aeschylus, and as is the case with so many of O'Neill's works,
"Mourning Becomes Electra" is about family dynamics, the burden of which
plagued O'Neil all of his life. Set in post-Civil War New England, it tells the
story of a doomed family dynasty.
Ezra Mannon (William Dennis Hunt) comes home from war, only to discover that his
wife Christine (Deborah Strang) no longer desires him when she finally confesses
that she never loved him and has taken a lover, Captain Adam Brant (Geoff Elliott).
Lavinia (Libby West) is the jealous daughter, who, like Electra in the Greek tragedy,
plots against her mother (like Clytemnestra) and worships her father (like Agamemnon).
makes the first move by murdering her husband and Lavinia happens to catch her
in the act, the daughter's worst fear come true. Brother Orin (Doug Tompos) comes
home shortly after, like his Greek equivalent Orestes, shell-shocked from war
and ready to wreak vengeance. Tied to his mother's apron strings his whole life,
he refuses to believe his sister's account of events, until they actually catch
Christine embraced in her lover's arms.
resulting tragedy lasts a whopping three hours and forty-five minutes and leaves
the audience drained, but never bored. O'Neill knows his stuff. A Noise Within
does a competent job with this difficult piece of material. Co-directors Geoff
Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott pace the actors well, unfolding the trilogy
with heavy but sure hand. Set Designer Michael C. Smith and Costume Designer Julie
D. Keen recreate 1880's New England quite well. The war uniforms look authentic,
as do the swirling hoopskirts on the women. The stone-like mausoleum slab in the
middle of the stage serves as a constant metaphor of death, easily converted into
a cold marriage bed when the occasion arises.
West, as Lavinia, is a bit stiff at first, partly because her character is so
tortured and unexpressive. Warming up by the end, Lavinia becomes her mother all
over again, with all the fiercely dangerous sexuality. Her black dress in the
beginning is later exchanged for the vibrant green colors of her mothers. Doug
Tompos is good as the equally suffering brother, becoming convincingly insane
by the end.
supporting cast, love interests Toby Meuli (Peter Niles) and Hazel Niles (Amy
Chaffee), are fine, representing a normal, balanced family which is almost sucked
into the dreaded darkness of the Mannon family, but thankfully escapes that fate
at the end. Deborah Strang, as the domineering matriarch, is strong and expressive,
going from a powerful force of nature to a terrified victim of fate.
the Furies of Greek mythology, vengeance is exacted with brutal inevitability.
No one escapes retribution. The chilling moment at the end, when the sole family
heir and survivor is literally entombed in the Mannon household, is well done
indeed. Faithful servant Seth (Apollo Dukakis) pounds hammer into window shutters,
echoing nails into a coffin and thus we know that justice has been served. The
Mannon legacy, rife with haunted memories and a legacy of the doomed can finally
be put to rest. The ghosts of the past will be silent.
if you're up for almost four hours of heavy drama, know that an O'Neill is rarely
light, yet always reveals the raw truth of human nature. Be prepared for great