As actors offered daggers and pleaded with each spectator, the audience faced the tough decision of determining the faith of two characters in the culmination of Kkloc, presented by the Bottom Line Theatre at the Allen Theatre on Fri., Apr. 17 and Sat., Apr. 18. The production, a retelling of the classical Greek trilogy the “Oresteia,” featured impressively unique staging.
Originally, the “Oresteia” was written as a tetralogy of tragedies, but only the first three parts have survived, presenting a powerful story of vengeance to the contemporary spectator. Overall, Aeschylus’ trilogy, composed of the plays “Agamemnon,” the “Libation Bearers,” and the “Eumenides,” dramatizes the end of the curse on the House of Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, and depicts the development of Greek judicial practices from bloody vendetta to a democratic system under Athenian law.
The first part of the trilogy, “Agamemnon,” portrays King Agamemnon’s return to his wife after the end of the Trojan War. The play opens to Clytemnestra receiving a sign that Troy has fallen and expressing the desire to kill her husband, who has sacrificed her daughter Iphigenia to the gods for the good of the people. Clytemnestra is further angered because Agamemnon has brought Cassandra, a Trojan priestess, as a concubine back from the war. Thus enraged by her husband, Clytemnestra dramatically murders him.
However, the plot gets even more complicated: during the war, Clytemnestra has entered in an adulterous relationship with Agamemnon’s cousin, Aegisthus. Aegisthus makes an arrogant claim for the throne that, he thinks, rightfully belongs to him. This leads into the second play, “The Libation Bearers,” which tells the story of the reunion of Electra and Orestes, the children of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. The children decide to avenge the death of their father by killing their mother and the lover-usurper.
After the terrible act, Orestes and Electra are haunted and tormented by the Erinyes, female chthonic deities known as “the angry ones” that avenge matricide and patricide. However, after Athena’s intervention, the murderers are taken “to court” in front of a jury of twelve. After the votes on each side turn out equal, Athena persuades the Erinyes of acquittal and renames them Eumenides, “the kindly ones,” thus declaring that hung juries should be decided in favor of the accused.
Kkloc, which means “cycle,” combined the three elaborate story lines of the “Oresteia” into a successfully condensed forty-minute version told backwards—from the finish to the start. According to Bottom Line Theatre, “Don’t worry if you’re currently unfamiliar with the “Oresteia”: the plot unfolds sensibly either way.” The clarity of the plot was partly due to the fact that the production opened with a dramatized introduction of the main characters in the fashion of the epic Greek tradition and ended with the scene of the trial, thus framing the scrambled pieces in between.
This quite cinematic approach gave the audience a slightly twisted perspective and a deeper insight into the characters’ motivations. The play unfolded like a trial: first stating the crime, then presenting the evidence, and finally reaching the climactic moment of the jury’s decision. To everyone’s surprise, however, the jury was not part of the cast. As the lights went partially off signaling the end of the play. the accused––still tied up––remained in the spotlight, leaving the ultimate decision up to the audience.
In this dramatic moment, two bold audience members approached the accused pair and timidly lifted the dagger left by their side. Before it become clear whether the spectators meant to kill the accused or aimed to set them free, however, the lights went off and the actors fell motionless on the ground, “dead.” This unexpected ending confused a big part of the crowd and brought about heated discussion on the way out of the theater.
The play’s most valuable characteristic was the unconventional staging. The familiar Allen Theater was transformed into an seemingly empty black room and the audience was encouraged to wear black and to move around to their hearts’ desire. The play itself unfolded in different parts of the space, with the actors often communicating from a distance or interweaving seemingly separate scenes and conversations. They often interacted with the audience, approaching different people for advice and support, thus making them parts of the chorus of the traditional Greek tragedy. Even though some spectators were startled and unresponsive, the unique staging choice was a success and made this retelling of the “Oresteia” an effective dramatic experience for the audience.