Libation Bearers, Tom Small Productions, at Center Theater. Aeschylus was the first of the “big three” classical Greek tragedians to draw upon the scandalously dysfunctional House of Atreus for his plays. But unlike Sophocles and Euripides, his later rivals, Aeschylus gave an account focused not on individual members of the royal clan but on the slave chorus who remind their betters that no one escapes the Fates. In keeping with this approach to the story, adapter-director-producer Tom Small has fashioned his retelling more along the lines of a ritualistic dance than the standard modern drama.

But while the playwright might appreciate Louie Cowen’s chromatic-scale vocal compositions and Sarah Glover’s intricate choreography, he might also be puzzled by Small’s incorporating parts of Agamemnon into the text in order to acquaint us with the events leading to this play’s climax. And indeed, the climax is not merely a part but virtually the whole of this 80-minute production, in which every speech is declaimed at an intense emotional level heightened by the music’s throbbing Dionysian beat. In addition, several gruesome deaths are depicted onstage–in defiance of period conventions, which relegated violence to messengers’ reports.

But if the results hint at classroom exercises–for those taking notes, the theme is “blood for blood” and the central visual metaphor is “Clytemnestra’s dream of serpents”–this imaginative, original Libation Bearers is sufficiently visceral to redeem any traces of academic dryness.

–Mary Shen Barnidge