Fringe Arts: The Oresteia

Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue presents The Oresteia at Church Street Theater as part of the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival

Dizzy Miss Lizzie's Roadside Revue presents The Oresteia at Church Street Theater as part of the 2009 Capital Fringe Festival

Though I still stand by my original thinking that one of the chief joys of Fringe is seeing theater in the raw, as it were, scrappy and imperfect in rough and ready locations – sometimes I have to admit that can hinder as well. Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue Presents The Oresteia, a funny and subversive retelling of the Aeschylus play, suffers from venue pains. Contained in the run-down Church Street Theater, it’s hindered by the confines of a proscenium stage. Despite the best efforts of a lively cast, the location really clips its wings. Chief among the venue problems is the sound quality – it’s plagued by bad miking that jars the ears and disconnects you from some truly great vocal pipes.

But, if you can get beyond that, there’s meat here. A lot of gusto in the retelling by company members Steve McWilliams (music) and Debra Buonaccorsi (direction), which takes the classic Greek tragedy pitting the old forces of matriarchal blood revenge against the new forces of patriarchal justice (or as my poker-faced drama professor called it, “the rise of the phallus”) and shakes it up with rock-n-roll, burlesque, and lots of profanity. The cast makes a valiant effort to get you in the mood upon entering, by busking cheap beer and flirting with the audience. But the theater’s not built to encourage much interaction and that’s a pity. Once the show starts the action is pretty much confined to the stage, and almost seems crammed in those confines. It erupts through in a couple of places where the gutsy singing just can’t be cramped.

I won’t bother laying out the plot for the initiated, as the players do a good job of that in the very beginning and no knowledge of Greek drama is required to enjoy. You’ve got the essence of a good yarn – vengeful women wronged bent on revenge, callow youth dissatisfied with their lot, and the hounds of hell. All set to various genres of rock including a standout bluegrass number that allows the whole cast to shine.  Some of the best moments feature Felicia Curry, first as the doomed Cassandra in a gripping silent dance confronted by mirrors, later as the gospel fierce Athena, as wise and cool as one would wish the goddess herself. And she brings down the house in the closing number – what an amazing voice. Debra Buonaccorsi’s mute performance as Iphigenia was also a highlight, with a wounded purity reminiscent of Chaplin. Due to the sound issues, I could barely understand a word Steve McWilliams sang as that jerk Agamemnon, whereas the powerful voice of Maria Egler’s viciously sexy Clytemnestra blew out the mike. There are fun pieces of live music here sung by some great vocalists, if you can get past that poor sound quality going in and out. Maybe if I’d taken that cheap beer upon entry, I would’ve been able to ignore that. 

So, if you are looking for a raucous late night bit of Fringe fun in the Dupont area, head here, but I’d recommend for optimum enjoyment being a little buzzed and raucous yourself. This is the sort of show that feeds off the audience, it almost requires that mutual energy in order to succeed. Just take Athena’s advice and be forgiving of the flaws, and you’ll have a good time.

Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue Presents The Oresteia
(in conjunction with The Keegan Theatre)
2009 Capital Fringe Festival, at the Church Street Theater
Now thru August 9, Fridays & Saturdays at 11pm, Sundays at 7 & 9pm
1742 Church Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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