The American Conservatory Theater joins hands with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Ontario, Canada to present Jean Racine’s retelling of the Greek tragedy, Phedre. Directed by Carey Perloff, this masterful presentation runs almost two hours with no intermission. The drama unfolds on a minimal yet striking stage with “tree” trunks made of coiled pipes in cages, and a forest floor made of shadows from trees limned in light.
(Stage design from Words on Plays)
Theseus embarks on a journey leaving his wife Phedre in Troezen under the protection of Hippolytus, his son from a previous marriage. Hippolytus had been banished to Troezen by Phedre after her marriage. He confesses his silent love for Aricia, imprisoned on Troezen by Theseus. At the same time we have a near-death and almost demented Phedre reveal to her maid the real reason she got Hippolytus banished! Theseus is reported dead, Athens needs a new ruler and Phedre then reveals her passion for Hippolytus. With the return of Theseus all plans go awry in the way that Greek Tragedies have!
Near incest, forbidden love, passion, revenge, bravery, tragedy, innocence abound in the play, but the predominant emotion is guilt! It is interesting that a playwright with a near debauched life-style wrote this guilt ridden piece, or maybe that is why he did it! Phedre’s burning passion for Hippolytus, her guilt at this emotion are brilliantly showcased by Seana McKenna! Her regal bearing and striking voice make the character of Phedre come alive. Hippolytus is played ably by Jonathan Goad, Claire Lautier brings the luminous Aricie to life. Tom McCamus is an imposing Theseus and Roberta Maxwell does a commendable job as the scheming Oeneone. When Phedre blames Venus for inflicting the love for Hippolytus in her life, one is forced to contrast the real world with Greek tragedy. Yes, lives were complicated with love and wars and gods and such, but blame for infidelity and incest could be sent the way of Venus and banishing a son to his certain death laid at the door of Neptune! This ACT production is polished and powerfully moving and well worth a watch.