The Flies, Trap Door Theatre. It’s difficult to imagine how Jean-Paul Sartre produced meaningful work while living under Nazi occupation. But he not only wrote an epic play, he somehow got the German censor’s permission to produce it in Paris in 1943. In The Flies Sartre puts a decidedly antifascist spin on the Greek myth of Orestes, banished from Argos as a child after the usurping Aegisthus murdered his father, Agamemnon; Orestes returns to his birthplace to find a paralyzed citizenry cowering under a power-hungry despot. Teaming up with his enslaved sister, Electra–the only other person in town willing to entertain the possibility of rebellion–he spurns the gods and seeks justice through regicide and matricide. The message to Sartre’s fellow Parisians was clear: only the unholiest of revolts could set them free.
Sixty years later, Sartre’s inquiry into freedom’s cost remains disquieting and urgent. And director Michael S. Pieper is hell-bent on conveying that urgency in this clamorous, high-strung production. Paradoxically it’s most persuasive when underplayed; only the stoic, nearly immobile Angela Bullard as Clytemnestra brings a convincing gravitas to the stage. Too often the rest of the cast push themselves to emotional extremes, running roughshod over the text’s lyricism and draining it of subtlety and psychological nuance. Sending the show into the stratosphere of unintentional camp is Shannon Farmer’s unfortunate decision to portray Zeus as the flamboyant love child of Orson Welles and Martha Graham.