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Arts and Entertainment

New translation of Elektra Continues at the Getty Villa

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In Elektra at the Getty Villa, left to right: Annie Purcell (Elektra), Pamela Reed (Clytemnestra), Olympia Dukakis (Chorus) | Photo: Jeff Ellingson, © 2010 J. Paul Getty Trust

In Elektra at the Getty Villa, left to right: Annie Purcell (Elektra), Pamela Reed (Clytemnestra), Olympia Dukakis (Chorus) | Photo: Jeff Ellingson, © 2010 J. Paul Getty Trust
- by Ellen Reid for LAist

This weekend, the world premiere of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s new translation of Sophocles’ Elektra continues at the Getty Villa. Because the show begins hours after the regular patrons have migrated back home along the PCH, being at the Getty Villa after regular visiting hours feels like you’re trespassing on some very rich person’s property. The guards tell you to be quiet and you almost feel obligated to tiptoe through the corridors until you reach the open-air amphitheater. But the production, thankfully, is worth the hassle.

Here’s a recap if you’re not up to speed on the Greek Classics: Elektra’s father was murdered by her mother, Clytemestra, and her mother’s lover, Aegisthus. Elektra believes that justice will prevail only when her father’s death has been revenged. The only way she knows to right this injustice is to kill her mother and her mother’s lover. Elektra knows that her banished brother is the one who will ultimately take their mother’s life, but he’s not around. When her brother--whom Elektra feared dead--returns and kills Clytemestra and Aegisthus, justice has finally prevailed. Or has it? This is the question that Elektra raises.

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Dramaturg Michael Paller writes, “Thousands of revolutions of the earth around the sun have occurred between its first performance and tonight’s, and we still grapple with the major issues of the play: How do we regard a community where the punishers are as brutal as those they punish?”

Carey Perloff’s direction is both clear and imaginative. Perloff's selection of a two person Chorus, led by Olympia Dukakis, functions more like a mother figure than a typical Greek Chorus. The Chorus advised Elektra throughout the play. This advice given was a conversation between two characters, not a command from a large group.

The music of the production, composed by Bonfire Madigan Shive and realized by cellist/vocalist Theresa Wong, is mostly orchestrated for a single instrument--the cello. Wong never fails to be constantly expressive, enrapturing and virtuosic. Occasionally the cello’s call is answered by sung text by Wong or the Chorus/Vocalist (Sharon Omi) or sparse percussion, which is skillfully articulated by Michael Wells, who also plays the role of Pylades.

After watching this production of Elektra, it would be impossible to not mention Pamela Reed who plays the role of Clytemnestra. Reed is wonderfully despicable--a perfect villain. Her bold, diva-like entrance and suave attitude starkly contrast Elektra’s virtually insane mourning, ranting and remembering. When Clytemnestra is made to face her death, there might have been sadness among the audience, but only because Reed would no longer be on the stage.

This show is nearly all sold out, and for good reason, but if you do get a chance, catch the production and the accompanying museum exhibit on Greek Theater.

The Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater
at Getty Villa
8 pm