Greek tragedy gets a suburban makeover in Isaac Oliver’s Electra in a One-Piece, a brash rewrite for the YouTube age, which transports an ancient bloodbath to a backyard pool—with results that are clever, but too often hysterically overwrought.
In the original, Electra chants funeral dirges (Mom offed Dad for ritually slaying her sister) until her prodigal bro, Orestes, arrives to settle the score. Here, theater’s least functional family becomes a clan of PR-hungry monsters amid patio furniture and picket fences. Electra, now “Elle” (Amanda Scot Ellis), is a teenybopper with a camcorder and a chorus of talking male-celeb posters; her mother (Erika Rolfsrud), an unhinged housewife; and her brother (Chris Bannow), a soldier who escapes Iraq by faking homosexuality. Online fame, rather than mythic vengeance, inspires ever-gorier brutalities—which they promptly video and post to the Web.
This conceit yields entertaining insights: Orestes’ desertion is a sharp reminder of how our country relishes tabloid violence, while ignoring the kind we perpetrate overseas. The battle of YouTube videos, complete with proliferating “comments” projected upstage, updates the public dimension of Greek tragedy.
Too bad Oliver and director David Ruttura frequently get sidetracked by abrasive displays of emotional anguish, undermining the piece’s satire. Say this for the Greeks: Tragic agony sounds classier in choral odes than in fits of teenage whining.