Midtown Tragedy

Nor can Wanamaker's supporting cast offer much help, each off busily building his or her own production concept to make up for Leveaux's central lack. Claire Bloom's Clytemnestra is the high-rhetoric Victorian edition, an anachronism Bloom's sweet dignity can hardly validate. Pat Carroll, who gets all the chorus's lines, seems to be playing a dock worker in a 1930s labor-theater version. Marin Hinkle, untouched by the violent events, is phoning in from the set of some yuppified TV movie. Stephen Spinella aims for a grave toughness even further from his persona than Victorian roaring is from Bloom's. And Michael Cumpsty flashes his eyes madly, roars musically, and leaves the rest to his powerful physique; now if he could only sing Strauss's notes he'd be perfect—18 blocks north.

That I dislike this Electra is no surprise; what amazes me is my feeling that neither I nor anyone else cares if it's any good or not. The "property" (as they call plays Uptown) is chosen; one of the customary mediocre adaptors (in this case the crummy incompetent Frank McGuiness) is picked to shove placeless colloquialisms into some pedant's literal translation; the famous names, English or American, are herded into the cast; the daily reviewers are cued to write their mechanical blather; the result is shoved into a Broadway house, and tickets are sold.

But who cares? Why would anyone? What organic connection does the play, the production, the event, have to the space it inhabits? Leveaux's program note links the play to Bosnia, and defends it as "not an obscure classic." He might have done better to choose a play that he felt needed no defense, and did not remind him of something he could see on the news. And he might have asked himself who, paying Broadway prices, cares about Bosnia. Or even more interestingly, how he might make them care. But perhaps, to judge by the production, he himself doesn't care very much about the play or its possible meanings for us. Anyone can write a program note to say, "This is what this means," but the audience doesn't come in to read the program note.

Details

Electra By Sophocles
Ethel Barrymore Theater Broadway and 47th Street
239-6200

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Corporate marketing practices, which have slowly crept in to infest Broadway from the nonlive (read: dead) media, have made it a place in which neither genuine frivolity nor genuine seriousness has a home, only an affluent after-dinner sleep, dreaming on both. The 42nd Street Redevelopment Corporation, apparently, is interested in extending the same emptiness to Off-Broadway, already in a space and audience crunch. Unlike a multiplex that plays a manufactured product, the theater cannot be fragmented down infinitely; if you keep trimming the wick of a candle, it finally burns out.

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