Ethel Barrymore Theatre, (12/03/1998 - 3/21/1999)

First Preview: Nov 19, 1998
Opening Date: Dec 03, 1998
Closing Date: Mar 21, 1999
Total Previews: 15
Total Performances: 116

Category: Play, Tragedy, Revival, Broadway

Opening Night Cast

Zoë WanamakerElectra
Claire BloomClytemnestra
Pat CarrollChorus of Mycenae
Michael CumpstyOrestes
Marin HinkleChrysothemis
Mirjana JokovicChorus
Daniel OreskesAegisthus
Stephen SpinellaServant to Orestes
Ivan StamenovPylades
Myra Lucretia TaylorChorus

Awards and Nominations

Tony Award®

 1999 Best Revival of a Play [nominee] 

Produced by Eric Krebs, Randall L. Wreghitt, Anita Waxman, Elizabeth Williams and Lawrence Horowitz; Originally produced by The McCarter Theatre Company (Emily Mann, Artistic Director; Jeffrey Woodward, Managing Director), The Donmar Warehouse (Sam Mendes, Artistic Director) and Duncan C. Weldon

 1999 Best Actress in a Play [nominee] 

Zoë Wanamaker

 1999 Best Featured Actress in a Play [nominee] 

Claire Bloom

Drama Desk Award

 1999 Outstanding Revival of a Play [nominee] 

Produced by Eric Krebs, Randall L. Wreghitt, Anita Waxman, Elizabeth Williams and Lawrence Horowitz

 1999 Outstanding Actress in a Play [nominee] 

Zoë Wanamaker

 1999 Outstanding Sound Design [nominee] 

Sound Design by Fergus O'Hare


New York Post: "Zoe Gives an Electrifying Performance"

She enters, all body language, wearing a tragic, toy mask. But, once removed, the mourning Zoe Wanamaker becomes Electra.

Her performance in the title-role of Sophocles' "Electra" was lavishly praised when given at the Donmar Warehouse in London, and once again, in a recast version of David Leveaux's original staging, when she repeated it at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J.

The advance word is justified - indeed, when faced with the actuality it seems almost niggardly. The 47-year-old, American-born Wanamaker really must now be regarded as the greatest British classic actress of her generation.

She opened in that Princeton production at the Ethel Barrymore Theater last night, and she is magnificent. This is the most ferocious, most driven, most terrifyingly inevitable performance I have ever witnessed in a Greek tragedy since I saw Laurence Olivier play Oedipus more than 50 years ago.

Of all those Greek tragedies, possibly Sophocles' "Electra" has the most contemporary immediacy - a woman grieving inconsolably over a murdered father and anxious for vengeance. As the director Leveaux is quick and pertinent to point out, this very image can find modern resonances in the Balkans, Ireland and the Middle East.

And the Sophocles version of this tale places firm emphasis on Electra and her quest for justice, soft-pedaling the motive of her adulterous mother Clytemnestra.

For although, in league with her lover Aegisthus, she had indeed murdered her husband, Agamemnon, he, in turn, had been guilty of the sacrificial slaying of their child, Electra's sister, Iphigenia. Sophocles, by contriving to subtly place the emphasis on Clytemnestra's lecherous sexuality, negates that mitigation.

So now Electra awaits the return from exile of her brother Orestes, whom she trusts will bring Clytemnestra and Aegisthus to bloody justice. What obviously adds to the play's immediacy is the fact that here, character is destiny. Unlike so many classic Greek heroes, these people are not evidently, like Oedipus and Jocasta, the playthings of the Gods.

The reality of the characters and their plight is carefully underlined by the design concept of Johan Engels, who places the play roughly in a shabby here and now, setting it down in what looks like an abandoned steel works; center stage.

Then there is the briskly, almost brusquely, idiomatic adaptation by the Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, who with some phrases, such as "bosom pal," "spin that yarn," or "the devil has robbed us blind," jars the proper tragic utterance, but on the whole adds to the play's essence of relevance.

Leveaux has staged this "Electra" with all the tension of a thriller - he has ruthlessly cut the Chorus of Mycenae down to three women, with only one speaker, played by a motherly and understanding Pat Carroll. But he has wonderfully maintained all the helter-skelter emotions of the Sophocles, with Electra's feelings hurtling up and crashing down, before she finally recognizes Orestes' return.

The performances around this unhappy House of Atreus are splendidly judged. Claire Bloom's Clytemnestra is superb in her scarlet cocktail dress, bedizened with costume jewelry, looking arrogant, beautiful, cold and sensual - Martha Graham herself was never better.

Michael Cumpsty's upright, resolute yet slightly troubled Orestes, Marin Hinkle's wavering Chrysothemis, Electra's sweet but fainthearted sister, and Stephen Spinella's fussy, grizzled old retainer, Orestes' savior and tutor, are all sharply focused - but it is not for nothing that play is called "Electra." She never leaves the stage - and she is the tragedy's tuning fork.

So Wanamaker takes command. With a coarse putty face, a clown-button of a nose and hair seemingly torn out at the roots, wearing a tattered dressing gown trailing in the dirt, she stomps around the stage clawing at raw emotion.

It could be grotesque - but the sheer animal pain of this woman marked by many sorrows is such that she shivers with a vitality which makes every snarl, every grimace, into a statement.

And when, after her mother's butchery she falls into a sobbing, laughing, histrionic madness that is on dire point of becoming Straussian opera in its overkill, she suddenly reaches out and, quite appallingly, licks her mother's blood off Orestes' murdering hand. It's horrific enough to make the audience gasp. But, my God, it's effective. It's Sophocles. It's Electra.

Finally - both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus slain - Wanamaker can replace that white, characterless mask. The tragedy is ended. The memory is indelible.

New York Post

Variety: "Electra"

Arriving with an echoing thunderclap that ends pre-curtain chatter with a collective gasp, David Leveaux's production of Sophocles' "Electra" finally gives Broadway audiences something substantial to sink their teeth into. With this compelling, starkly staged production, led by a sensational and literally bloodthirsty performance by Zoe Wanamaker, Greek tragedy triumphantly reclaims a place on Broadway, where more prosaic disasters have largely reigned this season.

The production comes to Gotham from London's tiny, towering Donmar Warehouse (which also gives us next week's theatrical event, "The Blue Room") by way of New Jersey, where it opened at the McCarter Theater in Princeton in September. Despite a lack of stage depth that slightly clutters the effect of its final, grim tableau, the show is more at home in Broadway's Ethel Barrymore theater than at the comparatively cavernous McCarter. Here it's easier to feel the throb of emotion behind this family's fierce squabble over vengeance and justice, and easier to recognize the terrible relevance it retains across a span of more than 2,000 years.

That currency is pointed up in both Frank McGuinness' robust, straightforward contemporary adaptation and Johan Engels' set, which scatters the detritus of several centuries across a dark post-industrial wasteland. A soft, endless drip of water onto a slab of marble symbolizes both the ever-repeating cycle of tragedy that the play describes and the torturous tedium of Electra's life since the day her father was murdered at the hands of her mother Clytemnestra and Clytemnestra's lover Aegisthus.

Although Electra repeatedly bemoans the grief that poisons her life, a feisty bitterness is the keynote of Wanamaker's bravura performance. "I know what I'm doing's wrong -- it goes against my nature," Electra says at one point with a quiet piteousness, but such is the ferociousness of Wanamaker's performance that you don't believe a word of it. In a brown greatcoat that envelops her like a shell, she scampers around the stage like an angry rodent forever chasing its tail, thirsting to exact vengeance for her father's murder.

Seasoning her venom with the singsong sarcasm she brings to some of McGuinness' blunter lines, Wanamaker gives a vocally baroque performance, full of hisses and rasps and girlish whispers edged with a disturbing viciousness. When her beloved brother, the presumed-dead Orestes, reveals himself to her, the ghost of a young girl passes briefly through Electra's ossified heart and blooms on Wanamaker's face, and the effect is chilling.

If Wanamaker sometimes tips into actorly excesses -- stagy register changes in the course of a single line of speech, a little too much writhing, audible gagging in the middle of Clytemnestra's main speech -- she's never less than riveting in her energy and inventiveness, even if it's sometimes the actress one is watching rather than the character.

Riveting, too, is the stately anguish of Claire Bloom's Clytemnestra. A blood-red gown sets her apart from the black-clad accusers that surround her, signifying not only her ultimate fate at the hands of her son Orestes but also the wholeness of a heart that can still feel both guilt and satisfaction over her murderous acts, love and hate for her children. Bloom reveals them all with a spellbinding directness. In this small but powerful role, she makes a magnificent return to the New York stage.

Leveaux has elegantly directed the production with an accent on stillness that sets Electra's frenzied energy in bold relief. The performances of Pat Carroll as the Chorus of Mycenae, Marin Hinkle as Electra's more accommodating sister Chysothemis, and Michael Cumpsty as Orestes are all quietly effective, with Cumpsty in particular having grown in expressiveness since the production opened in New Jersey.

But it's the showdown between a mother and daughter, and the two commanding and charismatic performers who inhabit them, that galvanizes the production in intriguing ways. Wanamaker's mannish Electra has sought to leave all femininity behind, for it's women's powerlessness that fires the acts of both mother and daughter -- Clytemnestra's anger at her inability to stop the sacrifice of her daughter Iphigenia, less cherished by Agamemnon than a son, and Electra's fruitless search for her own justice and a life apart from her hated captors.

Of course the tragedy lies in the inability of these two women to find any common ground, any universal notion of justice. They can only see their own truth, and it is this idea that still sears us with its relevance two millennia later. Ideas of justice are as myriad as the minds they can inhabit, and it's from this sad fact that many of the world's horrors, so pitiably, continue to flow.


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