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IT'S REIGNING MEN IN TEPID, ALL-GUY 'ELECTRA'.

Byline: Julio Martinez Correspondent

IT IS NOT off-putting to have Electra, one of classical theater's most dramatic heroines, performed by a man (Donald Sage Mackay). In fact, the searing hate and desire for physical vengeance that festers within the bosom of this castoff daughter of the legendary ruler Agamemnon, sounds quite plausible coming from the mouth of Mackay, who makes no effort to instill any femininity into his portrayal. A Noise Within resident director Sabin Epstein's stated purpose in casting an all-male ensemble is to not ``attempt to become female characters but tell their stories as it was done 2,500 years ago.''

Indeed, there is very little but storytelling happening in this pared-down one-act translation of Euripides' play by Elizabeth Seydel Morgan. All the real action happens off stage as one overwrought character after another relates the events to some lamenting listener. The plot is explained more than it is performed, which makes for a swift evening of theater - but not a very dramatically fulfilling one.

The action still centers on the tribulations of Electra and her wandering brother Orestes (Stephen Rockwell). Since their mother Clytemnestra (Francois Giroday) conspired with her lover Aegisthus (unseen) in the murder of her husband, Agamemnon, Orestes was forced to flee and live his life as a homeless vagabond. Meanwhile, Electra has been condemned to a marriage to a poverty-stricken nobleman (Richard Soto) who ekes out an existence as a farmer. Once reunited, the siblings quickly work out a plan to murder both their mother and her lover.

Although the members of the ensemble invest tangible passion in their portrayals, they fail to energize this troublesome saga. Orestes and Electra come across as mere callow children who are far overshadowed by the deeds of their heroic father and the dastardly but bold actions of their mother. Mackay's Electra and Rockwell's Orestes are properly gleeful when relating the death of Aegisthus and deeply remorseful after they have killed their mother, but they fail to instill needed substance into their portrayals. Their actions merely minimize them.

One standout performance is offered by William Dennis Hunt as the old shepherd, once servant to Agamemnon, who helps to reunite brother and sister. Soto is also memorable as Electra's long-suffering husband.

ELECTRA - Two stars

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Ave., Glendale.

When: In repertory 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through May 15. Call for specific show dates and times.

Tickets: $20 to $40. Call (818) 240-0910.

In a nutshell: Sabin Epstein's overwrought all-male staging of this Euripides tragedy does little to edify one of classical theater's more troublesome tales.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 12, 2004
Words:445
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