Phedre, Court Theatre. Director JoAnne Akalaitis combines the gestures of classical Greek tragedy with the flamboyant theatricality of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade to get to the heart of Jean Racine’s 17th-century version of the myth of Phedre, who had a passion for her stepson. Jolting the story out of its safe haven in the past, Akalaitis shoves in the audience’s face its timeless themes of betrayal, life-destroying passion, and unintended consequences. If some of the choices are so bizarre as to evoke laughter in the midst of the tragedy, the effect is to strip away the veneer of Serious Art and get right to what makes it matter. Other than the pointless use of French (affected, moi?), the worst thing to be said about this production is that it feels too short.

As Phedre, Jenny Bacon seems to be channeling the insane Charlotte Corday in Marat/Sade, whose desire to murder Marat is indistinguishable from her desire to masturbate with his sword. Akalaitis’s interpretation makes a virtue of Bacon’s over-the-top performance: its flagrant unreality acts as counterpoint to the other actors’ earnest character-driven work. Outstanding in a uniformly strong cast are James Elly as Hippolytus and the superb Elizabeth Laidlaw as Enone, Phedre’s servant and confidante and thus the first destroyed. Kaye Voyce’s costumes–a combination of contemporary grunge, classical garb, and 50s fantasia–do their part to defeat any received wisdom about the myth or the play derived from it.