From ancient times, the great Greek writers– Aeschylus, Euripides, even Sophocles, who thinly disguised his characters – have tried their hands at describing the story of the murderous House of Atreus.
The Fugitives is something that might have resulted if David Lynch had taken a crack at it.
Brothers and sisters, I have no idea what it was that La Rinascita showed me at the Capital Hill Arts Workshop the other day. But it was something. Let me tell you about it.
First of all, you cannot even approach this story unless you know the context, and to know the context you should go see the fabulous Orestes – A Tragic Romp at the Folger, or, if you’re impatient, read this: Orestes (Jose Guzman), aided by sister Electra (Anne Veal), has killed their mother, who killed their father, who killed their sister. His mother had a lover, whose grandfather was also his father; Orestes killed him too. And there was more, and worse, in the family background: baby-eating; resurrections from the dead; sleeping with gods; sleeping with animals. The full monty.
All of that went before. It is now six thousand years later. Orestes and Electra are still together, in a dark shabby apartment. The ground is strewn with bird feathers. The Andrews Sisters and Peggy Lee play in the background. He wears a stained and dusty tux; she wears a worn party dress, with pasteboard sequins. (Robin Covington does these nice costumes.) They are barefoot, and pale as ghosts.
They behave as you might imagine any couple together for six thousand years might behave – which is to say, eccentrically. They are prone to incomprehensible rituals, performed in perfect harmony. They spit up feathers. Occasionally they are struck with what appears to be grief, or remorse. It passes. They have a remarkable procedure at their long dining table: wearing surgical gloves, they first slurp water; then change their gloves and throw dishes over their heads; then change their gloves and consume something, which sometimes is food. At one point, Orestes savagely attacks some cabbages with a butcher knife. This is the single moment in the play in which Electra is relaxed and animated. It doesn’t last long. They seldom speak to each other, and when they do it is to little effect. Indeed, there are only two lines whose meaning is entirely clear. “I don’t want to die,” Electra cries. “Neither do I,” Orestes answers grimly. You can guess what happens next.
It is not clear when the play is over. This is a bad sign: if the audience doesn’t know when the play is over, it means that it has not come to trust the play’s gestures and symbols. We see that the play seems to be over, but are worried about being tricked, or fooled, or confounded, because we have been tricked and fooled and confounded throughout the evening. (When the stage manager (Meg Palermo) comes in to sweep up the bird feathers, the play is over, no matter what else you might think.)
But – and this is a huge but – The Fugitives is also an exercise in total commitment. Veal and Guzman are every inch their characters every moment they are on stage, and the choices they make on stage they make consistently and without doubt or hesitation. They, in conspiracy with sound designer Stowe Nelson and lighting designer Corey Williams, ratchet up the tension moment-by-moment, so that whether or not you understand what’s going on, you know it’s bad, and that it’s going to get worse. Except for a brief passage near the end of the play in which an unnamed character (Carolyn Mahoney) embraces Orestes, there is not a false moment in the play. (This isn’t Mahoney’s fault; this Orestes is inherently unembraceable).
The Fugitive is thus a forty-minute exercise in atmospherics – a successful exercise, which will make your heart pump harder and sweat bead on your forehead. I might ask more from, say, Orestes – A Tragic Romp but for this modest ten-dollar show it is enough for me, and should be enough for you, too.
After the tragic shutdown of great little theaters like Catalyst, Journeyman and Firebelly, and after reading the melancholy news that Charter has cancelled its season, I recommend that we treat bold new theater entrepreneurs like La Rinascita with a certain amount of respectful indulgence. We need companies like this, whose low budgets allow them to take risks, and who can provide us with theater at less cost than a movie ticket. We need to be able to take the two-block walk from the Eastern Market metro station, through the beautiful old Capital Hill neighborhood, turned by this freak weather into a New England village, and go to a theater. We need the atmospherics.
Inspired by The Oresteia, by Aeschylus
Written by David Conison and Anne Veal
Directed by Conison
Produced by La Rinascita
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
The Fugitives runs thru Feb 20, 2010
For Directions, Details and Tickets, click here.