Hippolytos. The Getty Villa. 9/6/06.
The moon rose over the trees as the lights dimmed on the gorgeous new Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. The Getty's production of Euripides' Hippolytos showcased a beautiful new venue with a dramatic classical play. The Fleischman Theater is a beautiful outdoor theater in the classical stlye, but with all the modern theatrical equipment including lighting and projections, and as such it makes a lovely venue to view classical drama. The Getty has dedicated the space to producing one classical play in traditional style each summer, of which Hippolytus is the first, plus staging readings of more experimental versions of Greek plays during the year.
The production used a new translation of Hippolytos by poet Anne Carson, and as a result the show was more vibrant and less misogynist than Hippolytus tends to be. I was initially dubious of the skinny blonde Phaidra pining away in her bed, but Linda Purl is a true professional who performed the role with strength, passion, and nobility. This Phaidra was the victim of Hippolytos' youthful arrogance and Aphrodite's vengence, not the manipulative and lustful siren that she can occasionally appear to be. She was very much the star of the show. In addition to Phaidra as a strong female, Blake Lindsley gave a very compelling performance as Artemis. Her deep voice and striking demeanor made her fascinating as the virgin goddess in her speech at the end of the play.
Stephen Sachs' direction moved quickly with striking visual images and a great deal of movement. While it suffered from inconsistency, the play did an excellent job of filling and showcasing its striking venue.
Many aspects of Hippolytus were suprisingly inconsistent. The movement of some of the actors, especially the female chorus (Erin Bennett, Melody Butiu, Elizabeth Tobias, Shannon Warne, and Jules Wilcox) were beautiful and fluid, while the male chorus (Stuart Ambrose, Michael Dalager, Josh Gordon, Noel Orput, and Sterling Sulieman) was generally stiff and rigid, without much to do, until Hippolytus' dramatic death scene choreographed by Tamica Washington-Miller. I would have liked them to have a more dramatic and memorable dance upon their first entrance, when they go to pray following the hunt. If the stiffness of the male choreography was intentional and gender-specific, I have to question the choice.
The costumes, designed by Ann Closs-Farley, were also weirdly inconsistent. Though the saturated colors were an excellent choice in making the stage visually interesting and the relationships clear, some of the design />''''''';choices were profoundly odd. The female chorus wore fairly traditional-looking layers of red-orange robes, while the male chorus wore inexplicable teal kilts with facial makeup that made them look like extras from Braveheart. Phaidra And Artemis wore beautiful silk dresses that were vaguely reminiscent of the 1930s, that, while lovely, didn't really fit in with the rest of the production. That said, I did absolutely love these dresses, and I liked that Phaidra's deep purple gown looked simultaneously like a nightgown and formalwear. Worst, however, was Aphrodite, who wore what amounted to a diaper.
Paul Moore as Hippolytos did an excellent job of combining youthful arrogance with well-meaning earnestness. In many ways he is the object of a fight between two goddesses and a queen, rather than a subject of his own, but Moore managed to be somewhat likable and forgivable despite his pride. In contrast, Morlan Higgins as Theseus was stiff and hard to understand. He also looked vaguely Scottish, which was odd.
My major complaint about this play, however, lies in the racial dynamics. Though the chorus was wonderfully multi-racial, all of the leads were white, with the excpetion of Fran Bennett as Phaidra's Nurse. While Bennett gave an excellent performance, she was placed in what amounted to a mammy role. While it may have been more-or-less historically accurate for a wealthy Greek family to have an African Nurse (see Black Athena for more info on the relationship between the Greeks and Africa), it seems like a poor choice for this to be one instance in which they chose historical accuracy when they deviated from it in many others. Sarah Ripard, as the other non-white actress in a prominent role, was in a weird orientalizing role as the vindictive Aprhodite. Her diaper-like costume was nowhere near attractive, making her seem like a cross between a comic book villian and a Hindu goddess. The casting choices for these two characters, though the actors who played them were powerful and talented, gave the show disturbing racial politics.
Overall, the show was visually compelling and an excellent showcase for the new venue, and it demonstrated a wonderfully dramatic translation of a classical play, but some of the specific details of this particular production were dubious. It's a lovely beginning for a welcome venture into classical theater by the Getty, and I look forward to seeing what they do next, but I'm not sure the show stands well on its own.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Posted by Violet Vixen at 11:29 AM