By Holli Harms
For three and a half hours I forgot everything else but for the story unfolding before me.
There are awe-inspiring places on this planet that take our breath away, humble us, and astound us. This is what my experience was the night I saw Robert Icke’s Oresteia at Park Avenue Armory. I was on this planet in an awe-inspiring place.
It’s not often one has an experience that is transcendental. I can list such times in the theater on one hand. This goes to the top of that list. As one of my fellow audience members said after, “I actually held my breath for the three hours and thirty minutes. Now I breathe.”
The story is of the Greek King Agamemnon ( tumultuous, alluring Angus Wright) and his family; his wife Klytemnestra (scene chewing breathtaking Anastasia Hille), his young daughter Iphigenia ( Elyana Faith Randolph/ Alexis Rae Forlenza), his daughter Electra (Tia Bannon), and son Orestes (Luke Treadaway). Agamemnon has been having dreams, his country is at war, and in his dreams, a prophecy appears to tell Agamemnon that he must kill his child, Iphigenia, in order to win the war. He must sacrifice his child for the good of all his people. He struggles with this but he must follow the prophecy as he is a believer and his faith is strong. The Gods will help him. They are on his side. It is this action that will spiral the family away from one another and set into action murderous revenge.
Agamemnon says that some think of him as a fanatic because he is acting on his faith, putting country before family. Is he? Fanaticism is an arrow shot out as a dismissal, but it is part of our human struggles and gross violence inflicted on one another. It is none of our solutions. Soldiers kill for their country and sacrifice themselves for that country. Are they fanatics? Iphigenia is not a soldier, she is a child, an innocent child. Her sacrifice is not her choosing. The stories we tell ourselves in order to continue on with our lives, the rationalizing of horrors we do in the name of faith and belief are to quench the fires within. Fanaticism has its place in all of that.
Icke is addressing the question of faith versus science and our constant need for war and its never-ending cycle of destruction. The world is always at war, in some space, in some place, both in and outside our bodies as, “The mind is a civilization with always an army trying to invade,” and for Orestes, revenge is formed by the ghosts that haunt his memories. The murder of his sister and his father never leaves Orestes’ side and he must seek revenge to quiet those ghosts, to quiet his mind.
With, “mountains of dead words but not enough action,” Orestes asks his mother about tradition and habit, and aren’t they one and the same? She answers that tradition means something, but habit is whimsical, and so dinner must be served.
We have many roles within one family and within a community. Who we are as a family floats on top of our rituals, how we dine being one of them. We have major rituals of religion, war, and family. We use the three, linked with their traditions, to give structure and order to the chaos of life.
All of this will come up in you when you go to see this. You will carry this experience with you always, but please hurry as it closes on August 13.
My goal as a reviewer is to give you an idea of what you will see, to encapsulate the evening with words and images. Rarely is an evening beyond this simple construct. Oresteia is human, so human, the actors are not performing, they are living. There is deep honesty in their performances, and the theatricality of the production feels like acts of gods not creations by humans. The power of vengeance and murder is palpable. And all of this in the Park Avenue Armory, a place where soldiers marched and ate and lived, could not be more appropriate.
Oresteia the North American premiere A Park Avenue Armory and Almeida Theatre Production After Aeschylus, in an adaptation by Robert Icke, Direction Robert Icke
Cast: Anastasia Hille, Tia Bannon, Luke Treadaway, Angus Wright, Michael Abubakar
Josh Higgott, Hara Yannas, Gilbert Kyem Jnr, Marty Cruickshank, Elyana Faith Randolph, Alexis Rae Forlenza, Hudson Paul, Wesley Holloway, Kristy Rider
Ensemble and understudies include Bartley Booz, Lise Bruneau, Jacqueline Jarrold, Andrew Long, Imani Jade Powers, and Harry Smith.
Creative Team: Sets and Costumes Hildegard Bechtler, Lighting Natasha Chivers, Sound Tom Gibbons, Video Tim Reid
Performances: July 26 – August 13
Evenings at 7:00 p.m.; Matinees at 1:00 p.m.
Dates will vary. Please check the website for a full Oresteia schedule.
Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased at armoryonpark.org / (212) 933-5812
Park Avenue Armory 643 Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, NY
You must have proof of full vaccination and a photo ID at check-in. All attendees are required to wear masks while inside the Armory (N95, KN95, or KF94 masks are recommended). Full safety protocols for access to the Armory are here.