BWW Review: ELECTRA at Dallas Theater Center
There are few theatres doing Greek tragedy these days, but Dallas Theater Center has taken on the challenge of making Sophocles' tragic tale of ELECTRA one that will resonate with a modern audience. Dallas Theater Center's "one-of-a-kind outdoor experience" of the play not only embraces all the drama; it raises the stakes with a fresh, in-your-face approach.
As any good Greek tragedy, ELECTRA is full of murder and mayhem. Prior to the action of the play, Electra's father was killed by her mother - and to say it divided the family is an extreme understatement. The three surviving children are all handling their grief in different ways, and their mother has moved on, taking a new husband. Everyone feels that they are justified in their actions, typical of human nature.
The show has been very creatively staged, taking place in various corners of the Dallas Arts District, reimagining the outdoor stage of the Annette Strauss Square as a tomb, with actors and audience alike filling the intimate space and (literally and figuratively) standing on top of the action; the lawn, a parking structure and, eventually, the infinity pool on Flora Street are also transformed into the settings of other scenes. With headsets providing a mixture of live audio and theme-enhancing sounds, guests are led through the show by volunteers who manage to herd the crowds without ever becoming a distraction.
Although the play's text provided an overwhelming amount of exposition and wasn't necessarily engaging throughout the entire 75-minute performance, the immersive staging and impressively designed listening experience were quite thrilling. The use of headsets and some prerecorded vocals perhaps created a distance between the live actors and audience, but the unique setup enabled the cast to execute a wide range of expression without the need to project or face the crowd, as is required with a more traditional set. Real world sounds and scents further enhanced the environment. (Keep a lookout for the sound engineers who travel from scene-to-scene on a moving cart, never letting the sound fail or falter.)
Certain areas of the venue are less audience-friendly, and the view is occasionally obstructed, as guests are occasionally positioned to stand directly in front of one another. Because a major climax in the third scene was out of view for me, my personal experience with the show felt unresolved, but in each venue the layered performances of each nearby actor were fascinating to explore. As the titular character, Abby Siegworth's Electra was frighteningly intense and impossible to take your eyes off of. Her ability to control the action from what felt like a football field's distance was an impressive feat. Siegworth's performance was well supported by the remaining cast: Yusef D. Seevers (Orestes), David Coffee (Paedagogus), Tiana Kaye Johnson (Chrysothemis), Sally Nystuen Vahle (Clytemnestra) and Tyrees Allen (Aegisthus).
Whether or not the classical story speaks to each audience member, the experience Dallas Theater Center has facilitated in ELECTRA is a treat for local audiences to relish. ELECTRA continues through Saturday, May 27th. For tickets and more information, visit www.dallastheatercenter.org.