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‘Visions of an Ancient Dreamer’ astounds

By Dana Trismen

Section: Arts, Top Stories

April 26, 2013

This weekend, Brandeis Theater Company presents “Visions of an Ancient Dreamer,” a stunning medley of well-executed acting, blocking and translation that transported the audience to a different century. “Visions of an Ancient Dreamer” is composed of Euripides classics: “Orestes” and “Iphigenia at Tauris.” Originally written in Greek, Professor Leonard C. Muellner (CLAS) and his students translated the text for this production. Their translation was then adapted and directed by Eric Hill, the Louis, Frances and Jeffrey Sachar Chair in Creative Arts, along with Aparna Sindhoor, a renowned choreographer, dancer and teacher.

For those unfamiliar with “Orestes” or “Iphigenia at Tauris” these works illustrate for the audience the tragedy that has been bestowed upon the house of Tantalus. Agamemnon, hero of the Trojan War, meets his tragic end before the play’s commencement. Agamemnon dies at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra, who murders him as Agamemnon killed their daughter Iphigenia to grant fair winds for his ships during the war. Clytemnestra is then murdered by her son, Orestes, who strives for revenge. At the play’s open, Orestes and his sister Electra mourn their father’s death and hide from the townspeople who seek to exile them and murder them. While the question of who-killed-who could be confusing, Euripides is a master and opens both “Orestes” and “Iphigenia at Tauris” with an explanation of Greek gods and lineage.

“Visions of an Ancient Dreamer” is terrific on all accounts, from its costumes to the acting. The set switches only once, changing from tents during the first act to platforms after intermission. The lighting creates a sort of terrifyingly dark vibe, while still managing to highlight the actors’ every move. The costumes are intricate and vibrant, and recall ancient Greece perfectly.

Sarah Elizabeth Bedard (GRAD) truly shined in her role as Electra, the downtrodden daughter of Agamemnon. Bedard lit up the stage with her electricity and fever, as she held daggers, threatened to light palaces on fire, and spoke in tandem with the Greek chorus. She played Electra passionately, as the kind of woman who sexually embraces her brother and is praised for her intelligence. Captivating in her movements, Bedard would move slyly around the stage and call out ominously. Her acting was echoed in the second act by Sara Schoch (GRAD). Schoch plays Iphigenia, Electra’s sister, who is presumed dead but was actually saved by the God Artimis. Channeling the energy of her “sister,” Schoch is extremely believable in her portrayal of a forgotten daughter stranded far from home. She is skilled at emoting sadness and woe.
Minor characters were also unforgettable in this performance. Nicole Carlson ’14 acted as Hermione, a young child who is taken hostage by Orestes and Electra. Through her pouting face and plodding feet, Carlson succeeded in bringing to life the character of someone much younger than her chronological age. Eddie Shields (GRAD) also shone in his small role as a Trojan slave. Through jerky arm movements and incredible faces, he made the audience laugh numerous times. Perhaps most notable were the women who composed the chorus (defined as the Argive women, and in the second act, the Greek women). These five women (six in the second act) would speak together, raising the intensity of the performance. They would also shout out individual lines, act as props in the background and dance.

The blocking in “Visions of an Ancient Dreamer” was extraordinary. The chorus would move together in the background to the thumping of a staff and the beat of eerie music. Characters would play off each other, moving forward as the other person stepped back. While it was rare that the characters would straight out dance, the marching and hard-angled movements of the cast truly added to the authenticity of the performance.

The main complaint that could be made about this performance is that it was delivered all on one level. Every scene was acted out with incredible intensity and severity, so no crescendo was possible. Some scenes certainly deserved more passion than others, yet since every moment was acted out with extreme emotions, the more important scenes were not highlighted. The level of acting and choreography should have grown over time and escalated in certain moments, but this was lacking. Actors would also occasionally stutter, not entirely forgetting their lines but stumbling over the words. The translation was also interesting. While much of the language was dramatic and formal, there were some lines that stood out and were exclamed in the vernacular. Lines like “what a pile of bullshit,” “things look pretty hopeless” and “it is Trojan for holy shit” stood out. While they garnered laughs from the audience, they were occasionally awkward and seemed like odd inclusions.

“Visions of an Ancient Dreamer” is a true boost to Brandeis’ 2013 Festival of the Creative Arts. This incredible work can even relate to everyday issues. Orestes calls the Trojan War a “worthless war,” and Iphigenia responds: “is there any other kind?” With relevant themes and passionate acting, “Visions of an Ancient Dreamer” is a performance Brandeisians should go see this weekend.

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