The word justice and destiny keep gurgling up in Robert Fagles' translation of Aeschylus' 2500-year old tragedy, and both the play and this production are at odds trying to fathom the workings of war, and where God (or the gods, in the case of the ancient Greeks) weighs in on the causes of bloodshed and misery. Much later, in liturgical text, Saint Anthony, visiting hell, asks the devil, And what is the purpose of all this? The devil replies, There is no purpose. That's largely the view of princess Cassandra (Francesca Faridany), dragged from her home in Troy as a slave and concubine in triumphant General Agamemnon's (Delroy Lindo) war cart back to Argos. With hollow eyes and, as Sophocles called it in Ajax, that blank thousand yard stare, Cassandra glares defiant, wordless for a while. Agamemnon's queen, silver-haired Clytemnestra (Tyne Daly) welcomes her into the house in a speech saturated with hostile subtext. (She also welcomes home her long-departed husband, and she has an issue with him as well. Once the royal couple have withdrawn into the house, Faridany's Cassandra cuts loose with a speech delivered with harrowing conviction and convulsions that mark the one moment where Wadsworth's formally postured production costumed by Rachel Myers in color-coordinated togas and wraps -- actually springs to life. This isn't because the other actors don't deliver with superb enunciation, clarity and obvious concern over the curses that continue to plague their characters and their kingdom. It's because Stephen Wadsworth stages the play with the formality of an opera. The only instruments for the music, however, are the actors themselves, sometimes speaking, sometimes chanting in unison, with crescendos and decrescendos, rendering Fagles' beautiful, dense translation as a poetical music which grasps, with straws of logic, for some comprehension of the chasm between justice and revenge. When Cassandra finally speaks her aria, it smashes through the carefully manicured presentation with a dance of death, and prophecies of coming destruction including her own that takes the production from a debate about Things That Matter into an irrational and surreal explication drawn from the horrors of war. Her speech and its presentation defy all of the argumentation, and its emotional logic, that has come before. It's a portrait of madness that is the essence of the world, as though Cassandra alone met with the devil, who told her, There is no purpose.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Sept. 4. Continues through Sept. 27, 2008