DOWNEY - Grief, revenge, proud princesses reduced to concubines, the great city of Troy burning to the ground, and by the fire's shifting glare a great queen goes mad. It seems like less than a year since the American Hellenic Council brought the Leonides Loizides Theatrical group's world-class live theatrical production, "The Trojan Women by Euripides," to the Downey Theatre.You don't have to be a Greek to understand the body's passions enacted on the bare stage, with lights of blue then red then purple bathing the actors to match their emotions. Drumbeats and flute music filter into the scene. For those who don't speak Greek, English supra-titles are clearly shown on a lighted banner above the proscenium arch. Loizides's troop has performed in Athens, London, Paris and New York, and now, for Southern California audiences, he has found his theater in Downey. The Greek community last year had no trouble finding the freeway access-friendly Downey Theatre, with its convenient free parking, gem-like acoustics and intimate seating. Revenge, blood lust, grief, murder, madness and final atonement. All this is enacted in two hours in the abridged "Oresteia," this year's Leondidas Loizides troop's offering. It vividly brings to life the old tale about the blood-feud between two brothers, Atreus and Thyestes, and the meat pie which one serves the other, cooked with the chopped flesh and bones of his children Here we see Orestes, for whom the trilogy is named, driven mad by the Furies for matricide and pursed by them from Argos to the sanctuary of Apollo in Athens.
The events which bring the family of Atreus to this state were set in motion by men, but it is women who propel these dramas. It takes two powerful women and a goddess, Clytemnestra, Electra and Athena, to bring a private blood feud to a head and to solve the problem of achieving justice in family feuds, without private individuals having to commit crimes of revenge. Watch Athena perform magic by transforming the three blood-thirsty crones, The Avenging Furies, to the three good spirits, the Eumenides. They will now preside over the new responsibility of the state for pursuing justice. Harmony reigns after all the raging. In fifth-century BCE Greece, the women's parts as well as the men's, would all have been played by men, wearing full face masks with mini-megaphones inside the mouth piece, and artfully draped in togas, peplums and tunics over their high-heeled buskins, shoes which made them appear of heroic proportions to the audiences in their outdoor amphitheatres. The first strong woman's part is Clytemnestra, sister of the beautiful Helen and wife to Agamemnon. We are to believe that her grief at her daughter's sacrificial death ten years ago at Aulis at Agamemnon's hands, is her sole motive in planning to kill Agamemnon, now triumphantly returning from the Trojan War. But her openly adulterous affair with his cousin Aegisthus tinges her grief with imperious lust. Another woman who commands attention is Cassandra, Princess of Troy but now Agamemnon's exotic war prize. In a powerful fit of prophecy, Cassandra foretells her own death awaiting her inside the palace doors, and the continuation of the family curse. In the next generation, it is Electra's arguments which force her brother Orestes to avenge their father's death by killing their mother, in spite of the fearful taboo against matricide. Aeschylus sets up a deadlock as far as punishment for crime is concerned. Cue in Athena and the Eumenides. This trilogy, the Oresteia, won first prize for its author, Aeschyleus, on a bright spring day at the Dionysian Festival in Athens in 459 BCE (Before the Common Era). It is the only complete trilogy, three plays dealing with different phases of the same tragic story, which has come down to us intact. Other Greek playwrights took up aspects of this story with a different emphasis. Sophocles and Euripides both wrote masterpieces, their own Electra's. We can hope that next year this superb company will bring us another great play to spread Greek culture. For now, there is the rare opportunity to see this trilogy performed as one play, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 13 at the Downey Theatre. For more information and to order tickets, call (323) 651-3507, or go to www.americanhellenic.org, or go to the Downey Theatre box office the night of the performance.
********** Published: November 4, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 29