Orestes: a classic

A review of Euripides Orestes
presented by Abbedam Productions
20-23 November, 1996
The Second Playing Space
Timms Centre of the Arts
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta

by Diana Davidson
University of Alberta
E-mail c/o

Questions of spirituality, justice, chastity and loyalty sound like stock characteristics of a modern 90s drama. This production may have been timeless, but it was certainly not "modern" and there is not an angel or an America in sight. Orestes, a Greek tragedy by Euripides, had a successful and intriguing opening night Tuesday evening at the Timms Centre. The production is presented by Abbedam, a harmonious anagram for an association of BA, BEd and MA Drama students. Orestes is an insightful collaboration of three of the U of A's most exciting departments.

Orestes poetically recounts the myths of Electra and Orestes, two siblings condemned to death for the murder of their mother, Clytemnestra; Helen of Troy, their aunt and beautiful cause/scapegoat of the Trojan War; Menelaus, the husband of Helen and the power-hungry uncle of Electra and Orestes; Hermione, the pawned daughter of Helen and Menelaus; Tyndareus, the father of Helen and Clytemnestra; Pylades, the loyal friend of Orestes; and Apollo, the god responsible for both the drama's tragedy and salvation. One does not need to know classical mythology to understand Abbedam's Orestes, but it will enhance enjoyment of the drama.

The duality of the prime roles of Electra, Orestes and Pylades (six actors simultaneously perform three characters) creates an intriguing presentation. This clever technique gives depth to both the literal and dramatic interpretations of Euripides' text. The irony, anger and anguish of the play becomes much more apparent because the audience is essentially presented with two simultaneous, interacting plays. Freedom of interpretation becomes much more accessible to the audience.

Monica Maddaford and Ottillie Parfitt excellently portray the powerful and assertive Electra, and Daniel Arnold and Rob Sproule deliver an equally intense and impressive performance of Orestes. Other notably impressive performances are delivered by Aaron Willis as Tyndareus, and Lola Henault and Margaret MacDonald as Phrygian slaves. The cast and chorus of Orestes is well-balanced and exhibits unity in both intellectual intensity and dramatic energy.

The modern set of steely blackness is very appropriate to the overall mood of the text and works well with the careful choreography. Orestes' success owes much to this choreography - the production is all about movement, both physical and textual. The minimalist costumes of black, red, and beige variations work well and draw attention to the cleverly-blocked movement. The airbrush makeup technique adds significantly to the actors' visual impact.

A quotation from the play that lingers in my brain is Orestes' line 'We obey the gods whether they exist or not,' a significant indication that many of the issues Euripides dealt with in his poetry and drama still fuel literature and theatre today. The issues of family loyalty, spiritual and physical chastity, revenge, obedience, and worship still perplex and intrigue readers and audiences today. Euripides' Orestes is indeed timeless in both material and message, and Abbedam translates this timelessness into an entertaining and thought-provoking performance well worth seeing.

Diana Davidson
University of Alberta
E-mail c/o

(Diana Davidson is completing her Bachelor's degree at the University of Alberta. )

Originally published by the University of Alberta Gateway (the student newspaper), Volume 86, Issue 20, on Thursday, November 21, 1996. Website: