Chicago Theatre Review
Court Theatre’s ‘Agamemnon’ a First-Class Production of a Second-Class Play
Agamemnon – Court Theatre
Court Theatre’s production of the Greek drama “Agamemnon” has all the characteristics that have made Court one of Chicago’s top theater companies: the lighting, by John Culbert, is first rate; the scenic design, from Scott Davis, transforms Court’s stage in unanticipated ways; the costumes, from Jacqueline Firkins, vault the drama into modern times without sacrificing its unique feeling; and the performers, including Sandra Marquez, Mark Montgomery, and especially Court regulars Adrienne Walker, Alfred Wilson, and Michael Pogue, turn in haunting performances.
The problem – and it’s a very saddening one – is that “Agamemnon” is hardly a play that rewards such commitments. The story, like most Greek dramas, is an exceedingly simple one. The Greek army has triumphed in its 10-year war with the Trojans, and Agamemnon, the haughty king of the Greeks, has returned to Argos to resume his place on the throne. The king’s welcome, though, is fraught with tension, and past sins (mainly Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods before the war) build to a spectacularly bloody finale.
Getting to those final, breathless 20 minutes, however, is a meandering, even interminable slog, as the first 40 minutes of “Agamemnon” are devoted to rehashes, pontificates, and irritating despairs from the play’s chorus, which drones on and on and on (and on). “Iphigenia in Aulis,” Court Theatre’s 2014 staging of the first arc in Agamemnon’s sad tale (the play culminated in the sacrifice of his daughter), was a true triumph, a merging of modern theatrical techniques with the classic themes of Greek tragedy – the emotions were as spiked as one would expect from a Greek play, but there was a wit and banter to the show’s dialogue that planted the play in a firm, modern setting. “Agamemnon,” by contrast, is a hopelessly dated bore, and though Nicholas Rudall’s world-premiere translation bring an eloquence to the text, he cannot overcome the maddening slog of the play’s opening segment, which is also rife with allusions and references to other Greek tales that may fly over the head of a less-learned theatergoer. And it is all very unfortunate, because as previously stated, all the technical aspects of the production cannot be improved on.
“Agamemnon” is the second part in a three-play cycle that Court is preparing, one that covers the entire House of Atreus narrative. Next season, Court will conclude the cycle with “Elektra,” and one can only hope that the source material is at the level of the cycle’s first play, and not its current production.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Running through Dec. 6 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting http://www.courttheatre.org/.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.