The Playgoer: Peter Stein

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Peter Stein

You may remember six weeks ago my amazement that the NY Times, in announcing the Greek National Theatre's Electra, didn't seem to know who director Peter Stein was. Well David Cote and I decided to make sure the rest of New York knew.

The perk for me was to get a half-hour with the man on the phone. Some highlights from that interview, a brief overview of his career and interests, and a preview of his Electra are contained this week's Time Out theatre feature.

I also caught the show last night, which was one of the most involving productions of a Greek tragedy I've ever seen live. Much credit goes to the stunning lead performance by Stefania Goulioti. Her Electra is young, hip, pissed off, and downright hot. Despite Stein's age and asethetcially conservative rep, this is still not your father's Greek Tragedy. In fact, now I'm worried he comes off as too conservative in the article. While there's no easily described "concept", we're not talking big stiffs walking around in shoulder-padded Star Trek robes. The visual minimalism allows for great freedom. And even just a touch of modernity--the brooding Electra and Orestes wear black hoodies and sweats, while everyone around them is in ethereal white. In this and many ways, Stein successfully evokes Hamlet throughout. But this time there are two vengeful children of a fallen father.

Now the fact that Electra, Clytemnestra, and all fifteen women of the chorus are magazine-cover gorgeous does betray an old European he-man's sensibility. (Not to mention the female nudity.) And I think theatregoers from the 60s and 70s will recognize some perhaps outmoded "experimental" aesthetics. But I found it completely fresh.

Because of Stein's legendary textual specificity, the language barrier is frustrating here. Spoken in modern Greek, the subtitles are hard to follow without missing the stage action. But if you know the play well at all, this won't be a problem.

Plenty of empty seats, I believe. And discounts aplenty on Theatermania, Playbill, etc.

So read the article, and go!


Anonymous said...

Actually, I have to disagee with you. I was at the same performance last night (actually spotted David) and though i went with high hopes, I actually found myself disappointed. One problem is that Electra just is not my favorite play or my favorite Greek tragedy for that matter. Over two hours of unrelented lamenting and wishing for your mother's demise is just not that interesting to me (wasn't that sophmore year of high school?). The text was clear, but it was so repetitive that I wondered what Stein did with actual, complicated, nuanced works. And for what he did do--I could see some moments that were interesting. I particularly liked the use of music. And Electra was played by a talented actress. But other times (like the aforementioned nudity) it seemed like almost a parody of European theater.

Of course, worth just seeing his work, because of his reputation. And the fact that the Times didn't know who he is...sadly, not so surprising to me.

Unknown said...

Glad to read your comments. As per Edward's note, the level of lament in the beginning is a tricky thing. It starts off at a fever pitch and doesn't stop! Most English-language translators tend to condense the text to make it sharper, leaner, and less raw. It can help to have a bigger space (this was original presented at Epidauros) and to stylize it with song.

The beautiful women is probably because most of these actors tend to be Greek TV actors (i.e. the Xerxes from last year's Persians).

Anonymous said...

Reading the Stein piece (very nice, btw): I am surprised he sees Electra as an extremist in a situation that calls for compromise. The play is well noted for its profound ambiguity, but the play never questions that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus need to die; it's only a question of how.

Playgoer said...

Apparently John Simon disagrees with me about the eye-candy chorus: "We have a chorus of 15 maidens in white beachwear, one of whom, a tall redhead, is actually attractive." Since rating female attributes constitutes the most important criteria in Simon's criticism, I guess I'll have to bow to him, then.