Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus translated by Robert Fagles

You can run, but you can’t hide

Orestes, exiled from Mykonos since his mother slaughtered his father and took up with his father’s cousin, is tasked by Apollo to kill the unnatural woman who has attacked the very seat of family and social authority. However, as Orestes well understands, the murder of one's mother violates the most basic human instinct and is everywhere regarded as taboo. On his return to Mykonos, Orestes leaves a lock of his hair at his father’s grave, hiding at the sounds of his sister Electra's approach with a retinue of once noble slaves. They bear libations to sooth Agamemnon’s soul, as apparently, years after her crime, Clytaemnestra feels the pangs of guilt. Electra recognizes the lock of hair, reunites with her brother and they sing a song of vengeance over the grave. Orestes disguises himself, kills the usurper, then after some back and forth, leads his mother offstage to kill her. He then displays to the chorus the bodies as well as the net the murderers used to entrap and kill his father. However, immediately afterwards Orestes is hounded by invisible Furies, outraged at this killing of a blood relative, a mother no less, and he takes off, stage left.

Once again the imagery is amazing and fresh, the conflict crystal clear and never sidetracked. The blatant theatricality felt very modern to me, maybe even very Broadway. These plays feel elemental to me, the human soul stripped down to its essence. Humanity crushed by society. Orestes has an impossible task -- torn between his sacred duty of obtaining vengeance for his murdered father and protecting his murderous mother. Such is life with no organized system of justice. I’ve been watching the Peter Hall productions on You Tube and I am learning how much of acting is in the body, not the face; in the voice, and not the eyes.

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