Arts theater review

Twisted mythology

Jay Scheib’s gutsy new play Elektra

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Orestes (Paul E. Kreiner ’12) embraces his sister Elektra (HyoJeong Choi ’12) in the final scene, while a chorus member (Hrant Gharibyan ’13) lifts an elder woman (Jennifer Wang ’13) to an upper tier of the stage.
Subramanian Sundaram


Directed by Jay Scheib

April 5–6 and 11–13, 2013, 8 p.m.

Kresge Little Theater

MIT Music and Theater Arts and Dramashop

MIT Professor of Music and Theater Arts Jay R. Scheib’s newest production, Elektra, took stage this month at Kresge Little Theater, starring an all-MIT-student cast. The Greek myth inspired tale of heartache and revenge makes the audience cringe, laugh, and gasp as characters spit blood into each other’s faces, surgically remove someone’s heart, reunite with long-lost siblings, and commit murder. The performance both captivates and horrifies the audience while effectively articulating its tragic theme.

Based on Euripides’ original play, which was written in 410 B.C., Scheib’s Elektra follows siblings Elektra (HyoJeong Choi ’13) and Orestes (Paul E. Kreiner ’13) in their quest for revenge on their mother, the unfaithful Clytemnestra (Lina Cherrat ’14), who helped murder her husband, King Agamemnon, after his return from the Trojan War and exiled her children, Elektra and Orestes, to the country.

Scheib started with Euripides’ script, but added his own elements. “Jay added a lot of his own ideas. Some of the scenes weren’t in the original play,” said cast member Sahar Hakim-Hashemi ’13, who became involved in the play after taking Scheib’s class. “Each day was a new day filled with discovery. He would change lines, add pieces, tell us to act differently.”

Continuing ancient Greek theater tradition, the chorus in Elektra sets the tone of the play and helps the audience relate to the story. In Scheib’s version, however, the chorus speaks 21st-century English, explains metaphors, and asks obvious questions, so the audience is never lost. For example, when a chorus member (Hrant Gharibyan ’14) starts yanking out his teeth, representing intense physiological pain, the chorus says aloud exactly what the audience is thinking: “What the hell are you doing?”

Scheib added scenes to hone the tragic theme. Chorus members (Hakim-Hashemi and Ramya N. Swamy ’14) cut out one member’s heart and find a brick, referencing Heiner Müller’s 20th-century poem “Heart Piece.” The horrific surgery, acted extraordinarily, plants the idea in the audience’s mind that Elektra’s heart might have been stolen or broken; someone with a real heart would not commit matricide. Scheib also added a scene at the end, in which a godlike woman (Jennifer Wang ’14) descends from an upper tier on the stage to deliver a McDonald’s Happy Meal and give a final verdict to the siblings. This way the final scene draws a full range of emotions from the audience — laughter, horror, pain, and relief.

The group began rehearsing in March, practicing about three hours a week and then going to all-day practices over spring break. “With every rehearsal I became more emotionally involved with my role in the play. I discovered my role better than the day before,” said Hakim-Hashemi.

The set, designed by MIT lecturer Sara Brown, was simple but provided enough facets for dynamic scene changes to enhance the play’s theatrical elements and keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Characters in bloodstained costumes rubbed along pristine white walls, changed behind the window in Elektra’s house, came in and out of doors on either side of the stage, threw up over the edge of the stage, and descended from an upper tier. Scenes change abruptly with a bright flash followed by black darkness.

Scheib’s Elektra is an extraordinary and unforgettable take on Euripides’ classic and leaves a deep impression on the audience. His dramatic interpretation and the cast’s spirited performance make it very worthwhile to see.

Elektra finishes this Friday and Saturday with performances at 8 p.m. in Kresge Little Theater. Tickets are free.