UNO Theatre students capably explore the intricacies of Sophokles Elektra guided by director Dr. Douglas Paterson, putting his own special stamp on the experience. And stamping, striding, declaiming characterize his choice of how his cast performs this famed classic. A powerful, stunning set from the faculty’s Robbie Jones towers over them, as if saying that there is no escaping fate. Paterson also adds personal touches with strange variations in costumes by Matthew Lott. They bewilder, no doubt causing us to ponder their symbolic meanings, implications which elude me. 

Actor Michael Mecek brilliantly stands out making the most and best of every meaning in Canadian classics professor Anne Carson’s translation. http://( calls for a style legitimately suggesting ritual rather than reality. Macek and Scottie Pace as Orestes always have found the clearest way to interpret the essence of what is within that approach. On opening night Ryann Woods, playing Elektra, had not yet come up with an equal ability to convey the verbal intricacies, as if trapped by relentless energy so much that it dominated every line, often obliterating the emphases which would have better defined the character. 

Face it, Sophokles created something for which actors and directors have to use imagination and perception to find a valid contemporary dramatic and compelling way to make this work beyond its ancient intention. Such plays were rites meant to enlighten citizens, to reinforce community and cultural identity, rather than exclusively being entertainment.

This late 5th Century BC work deals with a famed post-Trojan War legend, concerning family and revenge. At the center stands Elektra incessantly vowing to have her mother Klytaimestra and the mother’s lover Aigisthos slain for having murdered Elektra’s father Agamemnon upon his return from Troy. The mother’s justification is her husband’s ritual sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia at Troy. Elektra yearns for the return of her brother Orestes to carry out the revenge. But it takes time for brother and sister to reunite in common purpose.

Elektra’s utterances seem nearly monothematic. And her many interactions with the Chorus do not go far beyond that. There are few developments actually, except when Elektra confronts her mother and the arrival of initially unrecognized Orestes and his long-time family retainer known only as Old Man. Eventually the Old Man tells a long story about Orestes’ presumed death in a Games chariot race far away, to disguise the identity of the future matricidal son. Mecek renders that tale’s details with brilliance.

As Klytaimestra, Emily Hill is burdened with Paterson’s suggestion in costume and playing that the woman is some kind of off-center clown. Surely Klytaimestra has a valid motive for revenge on her late husband, but this interpretation works against that potential depth. Orestes’ killing her looks like putting her out of her pathetic misery rather than triumphant justice. You might, however, find that an interesting new dimension for Sophokles’ concept. Her clothing, like that of Orestes, Aigistos and the Old Man looks contemporary while that of Elektra and The Chorus more suggests generic Grecian.  Perhaps this comes from Paterson aiming to be original; it doesn’t work for me.  

Even though this is a student performance, the total effect remains polished and compelling.   

Elektra continues through December 7 at Weber Fine Arts Building, 6001 Dodge Street, University of Nebraska, Omaha. 7:30 p.m. $5-$15. More info at 402.554.PLAY (7529)

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