When it comes to Greek tragedies, I always assume the main character is going to die at the end. But while some important people do indeed die, spoiler, Electra lives, and nothing unexpected happens at all. So this was almost like a feel-good Greek tragedy!
In that regard, the show is kind of boring. Who wants straightforward Greek tragedies! I expected more plot twists. More shocking murderings. It’s actually the background story that’s dramatic, not anything we learn during the 100 minutes of drama. So, if you are familiar with this play, seeing it presents you with more of an emotional roller coaster just in the character of Electra.
Are you familiar with the story? It is indeed nuts. We begin our scene in ancient Mycenae, which the characters here pronounce “my-see-nee” and I have always said “my-sen-eye” so already up is down and black is white. Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae and/or Argos, both of which are said at times and ancient scholars think could have been the same region, but British people don’t care because they hear ‘Argos’ and titter amongst themselves thinking about their beloved discount home goods shoppe, anyway, Agamemnon was killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. I KNOW. This was actually years ago, and now Clytty and ThroatPhlegm are inhabiting Aggy’s home as King and Queen of Mycergos, with some of their children. Electra long refuses to act as a member of Aegisthus’s household, so she looks and acts more like a servant. Their son and Electra’s stars, moon, sky, and whole universe Orestes was exiled, from fear of his revenging his father, and has been missing for years. Electra has spent these years pretty much squatting in the dirt outside and praying for Orestes’s return.
If you didn’t know the story before, you start out definitely on Electra’s side. You want her to get her shit together, sure; the physical manifestation of her deteriorating mental stability is pitiful (and astounding). When you learn why she hates her mother so much, you’re like, yeah, okay, I see your point. What do you do if the one parent you have left murdered the other one? That’s pretty much as dark as you can get, psychologically.
But then we meet Clytemnestra herself, who is like a not-as-cool Regina from “Once Upon A Time” (mostly the cleavage), and we learn more of the back story. Ready for the Greek Tragedy Quotient ® to go up a few thousand notches? Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon because Agamemnon killed their daughter. He sacrificed her to win the war or some total b.s. like that, and Clytemnestra believes he did it for his brother Menelaus’s sake, because Menny didn’t have enough children to spare, and Aggy was like “yo bruh I have at least 3 daughters, I can spare at least 1.” Girls be worthless! So now you’re thinking, hold the phone there, Electra – your dad killed your sister, to appease the gods of war and some such b.s., and you didn’t really care? Umm that’s not exactly the sign of a fully functioning mental state. Once we know this much, we feel a little more sympathy for Clytemnestra. Sure, more violence is never the answer to violence, as this cycle usually begets more violence AND causes you to say violence four times in one sentence, but dayum, at least now you kind of get why she wanted to kill her husband. As far as reasons go, it’s a pretty good one.
Of course, the whole cold-hearted first-degree-murdery plotting of the killing argues against her heat-of-passion defense, plus there was the whole adultery aspect and making her lover the new king. So she’s not completely excused by revenge. But it’s not as clear-cut as we once thought. It’s not as simple as Electra wants us to believe.
Okay, so now we know more, the audience is grappling with heavy moral questions, awful people and awful things abound, demanding our attention and demanding to know where our sympathies lie. Clytemnestra’s story pulls at certain sympathies at first, but then she acts like a total crazy power-hungry warlord. Her ‘World of Warcraft’ style gold-plated dress doesn’t help. She’s not all sunshine. Then we have Electra, who has completely lost her shit, who is dancing and power-squatting all over the sandy stage, and is devoted without hesitation to her hatred of her mother and Aegisthus. But the all-encompassing hatred seems oddly fresh, so many years after the tragedy, and we realize it’s out of necessity. Electra needs to hold fast to this hatred to give reason and purpose to her wasted life and wasted mind. She has to commit to the intensity of her mad hatred, or else any doubt that seeps in could make her realize that it was all in vain, her resolute refusal to act as a member of Aegisthus’s house, to care for her own health at all, to live any kind of life. If she let second thoughts in, the strangely strong structure of hatred and revenge would crumble and leave her even more debilitated. This characterization reminded me of “West Side Story”, when Anita tells Maria that Tony killed her brother. Maria can only say (sing) “I have a love and it’s all that I have, Right or wrong what else can I do”, because it was all she had, and if she let the fact that her love killed her brother enter her head, she’d lose her f-ing mind. She, like Electra, makes a survivalist decision to focus on a sort of half-truth rather than let the whole picture screw with their version of reality.
And Kristin Scott Thomas portrays all of this, somehow, almost even without her words. Her physicality alone tells you everything you need to know, how her experiences have rendered her nearly inoperable. You so feel for her that, when her brother Orestes actually returns home to enact the revenge they’ve all been waiting and praying for, you actually wish them well for a moment. Yay Electra and Orestes! Hug it out! Get well! Do your thang! Then you realize that their thang is double homicide and you close one eye as all the bloodshed happens. And then it ends. No seriously, they kill the king and queen and say “Yay revenge! High five!” and then it ends. Good show!