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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

Not Your Father's Trojan War

Evidence Room's 'Andromache' is an update of Jean Racine's tragedy.

May 08, 1997|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's no mistaking the theme of structural collapse in "Andromache," as Evidence Room's cavernous Culver City warehouse performance space reverberates with the roar of warplanes, the shredding of scenery fabric and the toppling of an enormous cloud-painted canvas precariously suspended above the stage. Yep, even the sky is falling in this freewheeling contemporary update of Jean Racine's 1667 tragedy.

The plot still centers on the bloody, tumultuous aftermath of the Trojan War, but any lingering expectations of a polite period revival quickly dissipate with the entrance of a punked-out Orestes adorned with leather jacket and tattoos, voicing his lovesick frustration in an urban street howl to his loyal confidant Pylades.

Indeterminacy in the staging heavily shades this collective adaptation in which each performer transposes his or her lines into modern dialect. Taking a cue from Racine's penchant for pairing up principal characters with foils, each actor alternates between two roles, resulting in 16 possible cast permutations.

It's a risky conceit, to be sure, but despite some overreaching flourishes, director Bart DeLorenzo's anachronistic resetting makes ingenious and satisfying connections to Racine's text. It's certainly true to the author's adventurous spirit, which took plenty of liberties in contemporizing the Hellenic legends from which he drew his plots.

Racine is still celebrated for injecting the psychology of passion into the formal generational legacy of bloodshed that was the forte of Greek drama. In "Andromache's" tortured cycle of misplaced romantic obsessions, events are shaped not by superhuman passions and flaws, which enter and flow through the characters--rather, they're rooted in those characters' very personal weaknesses and dependencies.

In the reviewed performance, the most luminous embodiment of foibles elevated to tragic stature came with Laura D'Arista's alternately hilarious and horrific Hermione, the pivotal character in the story. Willful, petulant and seductive by turns, she has no qualms about manipulating the pathetically devoted Orestes (Christian Leffler) into murdering Pyrrhus, the conquering Greek hero and object of her own unrequited love.

The militaristic Pyrrhus (Matthew Sheehan) has conflicted attachments of his own to deal with--not very successfully, as loyalty to his fellow Greeks doesn't stand much of a chance against his passion for Andromache (Kathleen Dunn), the widow of Trojan foe Hector. Naturally, this lady has no interest either in her pursuer, setting the stage for a tangle of crossed emotional trajectories.

The geometry of passion is elegantly illuminated here; however, much performance mileage might vary with the shifting casts.

BE THERE

"Andromache," Evidence Room, 3542 Hayden Ave., Culver City. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends June 8. $15. (310) 841-2799. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

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