Curtain to fall on Greek Festival

The Greek Festival will end its 2008 season with an experimental – and slightly sarcastic – take on Aeschylus’ «Agamemnon» tomorrow and Saturday at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus, in what is alternative director Angela Brouskou’s debut appearance at the esteemed theater. Giorgos Loukos’s controversial and highly successful run as artistic director of the Greek Festival has provided theater troupes with the unique opportunity to perform in the Hellenistic amphitheater, once the playground of more conventional companies. A few years ago, the thought of Samuel Beckett being performed at Epidaurus would have been pure fantasy; now a director who is best known for the disputes her plays incite has been given free rein over a work written by the oldest of our tragedians. The elders of Argos wait for Agamemnon’s victorious return from Troy, weary of Clytemnestra’s – and her toyboy Aegisthus’ – rule. While the story may be well known, in this production, deconstruction is the name of the game. Paying attention to every word set down by Aeschylus, this will be an «Agamemnon» like no other, yet one of its main objectives is to stay as true to the text as possible. Every directorial flourish is based on textual evidence. Taking her cue from a line spoken by Cassandra, Brouskou depicts the elders as a band of musicians, who break into dissonant song – even the chorus from Verdi’s «Nabucco» is used – on clarinets, violins and drums. When their king finally arrives, they turn into dogs, barking and wagging their tails. What’s more, these inventive touches do not come from the director’s imagination; they have been in the text all along but have traditionally been seen as being of a poetic or metaphorical nature. Brouskou seems undaunted by the challenge of stepping out in the hallowed Epidaurus theater. She has a reputation anyway for taking risks with much of the classical canon, such as in her productions of«Waiting for Godot,» «Woyzeck,» «Electra» and «A Streetcar Named Desire,» but also for trying her hand at Sarah Kane’s postmodern tale «Blasted.» If there is one theme that ties all these plays together, it is violence. Whether physical or psychological, the pain suffered by people at the hands of others is something that fascinates the director. Talking to the Greek Festival’s magazine Ef, Brouskou says that choosing to do «Agamemnon» was only natural after her experience with «Blasted.» «Not much has changed in human nature,» she notes wryly. Both then and now, passion and power are the driving forces of humanity. For her, «Agamemnon» is simply the first play that explores these twin themes. Another theme in the play that Brouskou finds compelling is the way free will morphs into religious decree, as «God’s will» is cited in order to achieve personal ambition. The varied cast includes Minas Hadzisavvas as the victorious and unwitting army commander, Maximos Moumouris – in his debut at Epidaurus – as Aegisthus, and Parthenopi Bouzouri – a longtime Brouskou collaborator also debuting at the ancient theater – as the high-strung trophy, war-weary Cassandra. Amalia Moutousi, after critical success in «Antigone» last year, plays Clytemnestra, portraying her as something between Madonna and Margaret Thatcher, as she single-mindedly goes about attaining the vengeance she, as a mother, has been thirsting for the entire Trojan War. Becoming absolute ruler was simply a pleasant by-product of her fury. It remains to be seen whether this eclectic blend of the traditional and the avant-garde will be a success with the crowds at Epidaurus but, surely, no one will leave unmoved. The sets have been designed by Guy Stefanou and the costumes by Brouskou. The music is by Nikos Veliotis. The only other performance of «Agamemnon» will be in Elefsina, on September 10. For tickets, contact the Greek Festival box office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000) or the Epidaurus Ancient Theater (tel 27530.22026).