Reviewed by James Karas
You cannot accuse Upper Canada College of lack of gumption.
Not only have they staged a Greek tragedy at the august private school but they have chosen one of the most difficult ones in the canon. Instead of tackling the more approachable Euripides or perhaps Sophocles, they have choses Aeschylus’s Agamemnon.
Directors Dale Churchward and Heather Crawford have chosen a straightforward reading of the piece in keeping with the age and limitations of high school students. They are well-served by Ann Carson’s poetic but approachable translation.
The play’s main character is the Chorus of old men of Argos. Usually made up of twelve actors, they carry a heavy burden of recitation, chant and dance. In this production, the Chorus consists of four students dressed in tuxedoes and they speak all the choral lines individually except for a couple of occasions where they speak in unison. The directors quite wisely use the Chorus as four Argives who discuss what is happening among them and with Klytaimnestra. The members of the Chorus are played by John Gilchrist, Mallory Long, Jake Bradshaw and Alex Green.
The murderous Klytaimnestra (Charlotte Miller) dominates the play. Stylishly dressed, Miller is imperious and nasty whose character goes as far as kicking Kassandra to the floor and killing her husband. I wish Miller wore a long dress or a cape to emphasize her haughtiness.
Agamemnon (Alex Czegledy) is the victor of the Trojan War and he returns triumphantly bringing home his concubine Kassandra. Czegledy is dressed in simple army fatigues with no indicia that he is in fact a king and the commanding general of the Greek forces in Troy. Czegledy’s performance would have gained considerable strength if he were suitably outfitted as a conqueror instead of a tired soldier.
Sian Lanthrop gives the most dramatic performance of all as Kassandra. Kassandra is the daughter of King Priam of Troy and one of Agamemnon’s trophies from the war. She is frightened, abused and fully aware of her fate and Lanthrop gives full range to her emotional turmoil.
Aigisthos (Seth Zucker) is Klytaimnestra’s lover and his family’s avenger. Zucker plays it coolly and he gets the queen and his revenge, at least in the short run.
Greek Tragedy in general and Agamemnon in particular are difficult to stage. UCC treats us to a good reading of the text with sufficient context to whet the appetite for more. The students made good use of the stage; they delivered their often difficult lines without a hitch. Those are no small achievements.
In case you think that is a small accomplishment, try to recall the last time you saw or could see Agamemnon in Toronto. The last time I saw it in Toronto was in a Russian Church hall some four years ago!
Agamemnon by Aeschylus in a translation by Anne Carson was performed from January 29 to February 1, 2014 at the David Chu Theatre, Upper Canada College 200 Lonsdale Rd, Toronto, ON M4V 1W6.