NYC's La MaMa theater brought an extraordinary production from Greece recently. The Persona Theatre Company (Greek) presented a brief, intense piece called Clytemnestra's Tears, written and directed by Avra Sidiropolou. It's an extended monologue, the sole performer being an actress, Themis Bazaka. It presents the Agamemnon/Clytemnestra myth from inside Mdme C's mind.
The climax of the piece is the murder of Mdme C's unfortunate husband, who has, of course, just returned victorious from the Trojan War. Until that point, we're in a moment - an obsessive retrospection worthy of Samuel Beckett. The deed itself is represented by a handful of matter suggesting running water, or a certain red fluid, although the stringy substance itself is colorless.
Aside from this stuff, Mdme Bazaka has no accoutrements other than the stark set and her stunning costume. The former consists at a tapered stairway facing us going nowhere, and ropes hanging from the ceiling suggesting ladders, nooses, and the other implications of stringness. Her costume is over-the-top surrealism: from the front it could pass for a long-sleeved dress, blue-green. But it has a train - a tail, really, a long, wide, heavy flow of fabric with scaly horizontal pleats. It's absolutely reptilian. When she pulls it between her legs, we can see the red underside. When she moans for Iphigenia (her daughter, whom Agamemnon has killed), she turns round and round in a futile grief, and her tail wraps around her.
Until the climax, when she drops the dress and continues in a peach-colored sort of undergarment, she nearly always facing away from us, looking less like a woman than some sort of creature crawled up from Hades. And aside from the wonder of the costume, it's refreshing to finally find a director who dares to turn her actress upstage - like we were always taught not to do. It makes us look harder. Painters and sculptures were long ago freed from the full-front position; perhaps stage directors will finally catch up.
After the climax, our character remains in a reflective trance, but time does pass. We know because she tells us: "Days pass. In eternity." But where there's time, there are events, and the play's catastrophe is the appearance of her son Orestes (arriving to murder his old lady): "Did you see him? Can you hear him? He's coming to get me."
Mdme Sidiropoulou's script is sometimes free verse and sometimes prose, so
that drops of thought morph into a flood of emotion:
And you know there's joy somewhere, somehow, yet there's clouds in your eyes.
And tears well in your open breasts while your nursing your baby.
And you sense that the baby will leave you one day.
And you know that you'll end up remembering the day when you held the baby and hoped for world and just for one moment you felt that the world was yours and upon that thought you desperately tried to cling to it, but
What's more, it's in Greek, so it's deconstructed at an elemental level. We read the English surtitles, but we're blessedly free of hearing the denotative meaning. The Greek is hypnotic. Mdme Bazaka mumbles, grumbles, hisses as necessary, and sometimes she speaks in a majestic monotone. Her commanding performance migrates between emotions with epic detachment.
Sometimes Mdme Sidiropoulou uses sound for enhancement, vaguely human, like the voices of lost souls. It's unnecessary; the script and performance are themselves an enormous experience. At scarcely more than thirty minutes, this is a piercing portrayal of loneliness and vengeance.
- Steve Capra