Clyt at Home: The Clytemnestra Project
9 September - 6 October 2001, Theatre of NOTE, Los Angeles, USA
Written by Katherine Noon and Christopher DeWan. Directed by Katherine Noon. Original music and lyrics by David Bickford. Produced by Joe Foster.
Reviewed by Carl R. Mueller
One of the smaller theatres of Los Angeles, the Theatre of NOTE, recently attempted a revisionist look at the House of Atreus in an experimental production titled Clyt at Home: The Clytemnestra Project. More specifically, it attempted to look at Clytemnestra's marital wrongdoing. A press release for the production stated that "Clytemnestra, wife of King Agamemnon, is seen here not as a villain, but as a woman struggling with a collapsing household and the death of a child, while caught up in the pretenses of a society that demands public devotion to her warlord husband." It continues: "Through the eyes of Clytemnestra, we discover how immediate her story is to our own lives; how specific (and at times universal) the themes are: mothers, children, husbands, wives, anger, grief. We ask questions about Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Orestes, and Electra-and we ask these same questions in regard to our own families, and to the world in general. We come back to ourselves."
One thing the play succeeds at is to free itself of the profound patriarchal bias of Classical Greece, allowing the viewer to see Agamemnon's queen not as an ogre (as we see her in the Oresteia), but as a loving wife and mother. This is all well and good; but feminist revisionism has been doing this for decades now. Furthermore, Euripides in his sympathetic portrayal of Clytemnestra in Iphigenia at Aulis makes her a most loving character until she learns of Agamemnon's plan to kill their daughter. At that point there is no question that she becomes the potential (and eventual) destroyer, albeit a justified one, and, what is more, is no less sympathetic to the spectator. The "revisionist" attitude toward Clytemnestra is scarcely unique to Clyt at Home.
What this production boils down to is a package of good intentions that has not been sufficiently researched and, consequently, not sufficiently focused. This, of course, happens frequently in workshop productions where much of the piece is improvised and then not finally focused by a sufficiently knowledgeable playwright. The workshop too frequently falls into the trap of two things. First, the attempt to "universalize" a theme, causing focus to be dissipated. If a work is "universal" it is so despite itself. It is difficult to believe that Sophocles wrote his Oedipus Tyrannos to be universal. Had he done so, it would likely have been insufferable. Rather, I choose to assume, he wrote it to be specific to his time and place, to that audience assembled in the Theatre of Dionysos at the foot of the Athenian Acropolis. We must realize that we know nothing (or little) of what the Classical Athenian saw in that play, or in any other of the extant Greek Tragedies; but it is likely that most of what we see in it is decidedly different. Different times, different interests, different viewpoints - different play.
The second trap of the workshop is to force contemporary relevance onto an ancient story such as that of the House of Atreus. Again, these aspects are contributed by the actor in improvisation, as well as by the director and (eventual) playwright. But they are generally heavy handed and superficial rather than trenchant and deeply thought out. Unfortunately these are the major faults to be found in Clyt at Home.
It must be said none the less that the production was seldom less than interesting. Design, direction, video segments, music, and acting were of a generally high quality.
Prof. Carl R. Mueller
School of Theater, Film and Television
Department of Theater
University of California, Los Angeles
Other Reviews of this production:
"Petty Connections: Why the Greeks still fly" by Steven Mikulan
LA Weekly, September 21 - 27, 2001: http://www.laweekly.com/ink/01/44/theater-mikulan.shtml
(Includes a photograph of Jacquiline Wright as Clyt)