Agamemnon, European Repertory Company.
The Trojan War began with a human sacrifice–the slaughter of Iphigenia by her father, Agamemnon–and ended with one, when Agamemnon returned from Troy only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnestra, who’d had ten years to nourish her hatred for him. This grim myth, ancient when Aeschylus dramatized it in 458 BC, is the linchpin for British writer-director Steven Berkoff’s 1973 Agamemnon. Aeschylus called his tragedies “slices from Homer’s banquet”; Berkoff uses those slices as the basis for a modern meal with its own darkly distinctive flavor. He preserves some of Aeschylus’ speeches but also contributes much new material, seasoned with Jewish slang and references to napalm, not only matching Aeschylus for stark horror but adding sardonic humor.
Berkoff’s play, rarely done in America, receives a taut staging from British expatriate Dale Goulding and his European Repertory Company. Set in an industrial wasteland–Robert Whitaker’s set features stacks of rubber tires and columns made of piled-up trash cans–this production suggests both archaic ritual and absurdist anarchy by juxtaposing the poetic, sometimes chanted text with enigmatic, eloquent passages of dance, mime, and martial-arts movement performed by a Greek chorus of three Fellini-esque clowns. Together they create eerie visual images that contrast ironically with the bloodthirsty self-justifications of Joao de Sousa’s arrogant Agamemnon and Carolyn Hoerdemann’s poisonous, punkish Clytemnestra. Evoking a world in which powerful leaders pursue private vendettas with scant regard for the lives they destroy, ERC’s Agamemnon captures the moral outrage of both Aeschylus and Berkoff as well as the sheer fascination of one of folklore’s most enduring horror tales.