Its profoundly moving themes that touch us now include death, loss, grief, isolation, anger, familial arguments, revenge, justice and trauma.
In the story, the father of Orestes and Electra, Agamemnon, was murdered years ago by their mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. Electra then gave up her infant brother to an old slave, who cared for Orestes as if he were his own son and raised him to seek revenge for his father’s death.
Electra says that she is like the nightingale and that she will never stop weeping with sorrow. She prays to the gods that “the dread Furies” will punish Agamemnon’s murderers and that her brother, Orestes, will return.
The Genesius Guild cast, directed by Jill Sullivan-Benin, is outstanding and even with the traditional wearing of tall masks by the primary characters (cut with mouth openings), the searing emotions of the tragic tale are blazingly clear.
That is a credit to the command, poise and passion with which the main actors carry themselves – Mischa Hooker as the Old Man, Matt Walsh as Orestes, Stephanie Burrough as Electra, Dee Canfield as Clytemnestra, Anna Kronenberger as Chrysothemis, and Guy Cabell as Aegisthus.
According to the director, the tense mother-daughter relationship is truly fraught, as the bitter, scheming Clytemnestra and idealistic, mourning Electra are true believers in their side, but they can’t bridge that gap.
The tragedy contains themes of generational trauma. Sullivan-Benin notes, “There’s a line that says, ‘there’s war in women,’ and with all the political things that have been happening lately, it seems like a lot of the lines in the show have been resonating in a different way.”
The Greek chorus (here comprised of Heather Kangas, Kathy Calder, Melita Tunnicliff, and Claire Henniges) sometimes stands in for the audience, Sullivan-Benin said.
“There’s a progression as things go on, they come around to her side,” she said. “The chorus usually stands at the time for Greek values, the public. Usually the characters are royalty, so the chorus tends to be the common people.”
Drama behind the scenes
“Electra” at Lincoln Park in Rock Island got more drama than it expected the last week of June, when veteran actress Stephanie Burrough contracted COVID, and had to quarantine the five days before the final dress rehearsal on Friday, July 1.
Fortunately, the director had an understudy for Electra, Bella Kuta, who also was in Genesius’s first production of the summer, “Romeo and Juliet.”
Andy Shearouse, technical director for Genesius, said the nonprofit theater group usually does not have understudies — “since our shows are packed into such a tight schedule, we’d rather spread our cast members across the upcoming shows as much as we can, instead of casting understudies,” he said recently.
“As far as I can remember, I think this is only the third time we’ve had to bring in someone as an emergency fill-in since I started back in 2008,” he said.
Kuta performed a crucial function, reading the “Electra” part during the crucial tech week, as Burrough brushed up on her lines at home, Sullivan-Benin said, adding they started serious rehearsing in early June. “She was doing really well,” she said of Kuta.
“The whole organization has been so supportive,” Sullivan-Benin said of her Genesius debut. She has previously directed a Prenzie Players show, and was drama director for Sherrard High School from 2000 to 2009 and again 2017-2020.
Burrough returned to act “Electra” July 1 as if not missing a beat. It is a towering, heartbreaking, pained performance. Her reunion with Walsh as Orestes brings welcome joy and relief, and they make a strong team. Canfield is especially villainous as the arrogant, unfeeling mother.
“Electra” continues at Lincoln Park, 1120 40th St., at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, and Sunday, July 10. With intermission, it is just over 90 minutes, and admission is free. For more information, visit the Genesius website.