Through ten years of war, grief and rage, Queen Clytemnestra lies in wait for her husband Agamemnon’s return, determined to avenge one child, only to doom the others. The sole surviving trilogy in Greek tragedy, The Oresteia chronicles a deluge of violence that can only be stopped when society peers into its own soul and sees the depths of its complicity. Playwright Ellen McLaughlin (The Persians) has written a new version of the classic, commissioned by STC. Her play, three years in the making, weaves together the works of Aeschylus with stunning poetry and emotional heft. An epic, world-premiere interpretation of this pillar of western culture, The Oresteia makes a fitting end to Michael Kahn’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
How do we respond to a volatile world, to the crises we find ourselves living through? How do we gain anything like perspective? One way is to look at these great plays, to see how the Greeks met their own times as artists. In doing so, we go back into these tall, well-lit rooms to reencounter these towering figures and listen hard.
The Oresteia are three of the oldest plays we have. They show us Aeschylus grappling with the experiment of civilization – considering, with clear eyes, its weaknesses and its hopes. The Greeks had no illusions about the fragility of society and of democracy. They knew all too well that the whole undertaking was always at risk, threatened by forces both without and within, as indeed it always is. This play is a long struggle to see whether civilization can in fact survive humanity, whether their grand experiment can withstand our basest nature, which is always working against our attempts to do right by the world and by each other. How do we address our times from within these ancient, ancient stories? We have to remember that these stories were as ancient to the Greeks as they are to us. They used these old stories to look at their own times and to assess their souls, the size of them, what they were capable of and what they were up against. I believe that’s what artists do, and if you’re lucky, you do it with an extraordinary company like this one. I am very grateful that STC is the cradle for this brand new/ancient play.
All titles, artists and dates subject to change.