THE ORESTEIA, Stone Circle Theatre Ensemble and the Stage Actors Ensemble, at the Performance Loft. The Stone Circle and Stage Actors ensembles bite off exactly what they can chew with Aeschylus’ great trilogy about the fall of the house of Atreus through infanticide, matricide, and patricide. By the end the family’s suffering is justified when laws replace personal vengeance.

In less than two hours Tom Small’s rich condensation hits all the highlights of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Furies, proving that even with Greek tragedy less can sometimes be more. Using expressionistic masks and no more scenery than was seen in ancient Athens, he puts Aeschylus’ burning verses center stage (though curiously the author’s name is absent from the program). It’s thrilling how quickly things happen as the cycle of violence surges, connecting Iphigenia’s sacrifice to Agamemnon’s murder to the revenge killings of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus by Orestes and Electra to the final pacification of the Furies by Apollo and Athena.

Not all the performances are equal, but what matters is the sweep of the undertaking. Ann Keen’s evil queen commands her every scene. Alexandra Balong anatomizes Cassandra’s utter helplessness. Brian Koester’s anguished Orestes channels an ancient revenge. Kevin Wieter’s Apollo is truly godlike. And the chorus conveys its striking passages with emotions as precise as its diction.

–Lawrence Bommer