There's admirable ambition in David Sefton's first effort producing a spectacle from the ground up, for UCLA Live. And director Lenka Udovocki's lucid and visually astute rendition is right on track for the scale and substance of such an undertaking. She stages the play on a floor of sand against the rude concrete back wall of the palace beyond, with a corrugated steel door and shed (set by Richard Hoover). There's also a visual motif of power lines that crackle and short-circuit, and the play is accompanied by a chorus of Cal Arts and UCLA students, who sing much of their dialogue in unison while the Lian ensemble underscores scenes with musical riffs played live onstage with Persian instruments. This is an elegant and elegiac production. The challenge of this and, we hope, future endeavors like it, is to overcome the time constraints that mitigate against the military precision of movement and the vocal dexterity and comfort levels of ensembles that have been performing together for years. In the title role, Annette Bening reveals intelligence and raw emotional honesty but not the range so essential for this Herculean role compared to say Yukiko Saito's Elektra (for Tadashi Suzuki) whose voice transforms from the gravel pits to the that of a songbird in an instant; or Maude Mitchell's Amazonian Nora in the Mabou Mines Dollhouse. Bening's Medea and her Jason (Angus Macfadyen) play out their respective agonies with unwavering conviction, which includes some evocatively harrowing tenderness, but this epic still dwarfs them. UCLA Live, Ralph Freud Playhouse, Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through October 18. (310) 825-2101.
Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: Sept. 23. Continues through Oct. 18, 2009