Friday, April 06, 2007


The “Greek chorus” in Sacramento Theater Company’s new production of Luis Alfaro’s “Electricidad” is really “cleaning up.”

“Electricidad,” directed by Susannah Martin, takes the classic “Electra” myth, told at different times by Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides and puts a modern day twist on it, setting the story in a barrio in Los Angeles.

The original tale is set after the Trojan War. Electra and Orestes are the grown children of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. When Clytemnestra and her lover murder Agamemnon and seize the throne, Electra persuades her long-exiled brother to slaughter their mother and her lover in revenge. These guys put the “fun” in dysfunctional and are the poster children for family troubles, All are members the House of Atreus and every one of them either sleeps with a relative or murders a relative or does both.

The classic “Greek chorus,” traditionally used to give background information in order to help the audience follow the plot, thus becomes three neighborhood busy-bodies, with their hair tied in up in scarfs and their brooms busily sweeping the steps, and the imaginary ugliness that they find around them out of the street.

Therese Llanes, Nancy Silva and Irene Velasquez provide not only narration, but comic relief as well. But they keep up a constant conversation in their scenes which must be listened to very carefully, since their lapses into Spanish or barrio idioms sometimes masks the message they are trying to get across.

Saffron Henke, in the title role of the current production, may be playing her grittiest, meatiest character to date, the rage-filled Electricidade, obsessed with revenging the murder of her father. Henke’s anguish is palpable and the level of her fury fairly ignites the stage with its strength.

As her mother, Clemencia, Elisabeth Nunziato is riveting. Clemencia is a feminist who claims she killed her abusive, drug-addicted husband in order take over the barrio herself and turn it away from the crime-ridden place that it is now.

Electricidade is not buying it. She guards her father’s body, in the front yard of their home. She speaks to him, sings to him, and refuses to allow anyone to move the body, even though it has begun to decay.

"How many neighbors keep a body in the front yard as if he was a car without wheels, on cinder blocks?” ask the women of the chorus.

Electricidade’s grandmother, Abuela (Janis Stevens) and her sister Ifigenia (Katherine C. Miller), newly released from prison and perhaps “born again,” attempt to intercede. Abuela is an “old school cholo,” who isn’t above turning a trick herself or whipping out a joint to smoke with her granddaughter. She brings the wisdom of having lived a long life and having buried three sons, each a victim of gang violence in the barrio. Stevens gives Abuela an intensity that is both languid and fiery at the same time.

Gabriel Montoya appears in the second act as Orestes, a loving and devoted son, returning home after a lengthy absence in Las Vegas, where he was being toughened up by his tutor Nino (Roscoe [yes, Derrick--no last name]) to one day take his father’s place. He has no hint of the situation which is waiting for him, or how to deal with his sister’s insistence that he kill their mother to avenge the death of their father. She shames him by calling it an “honor killing.”

This is a play which is appropriately named. It crackles with electricity, it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go through the hour and 45 minutes of its performance. Anyone with a knowledge of the Electra myth knows people are not going to live happily ever after, but the performances make this worth watching.

Throughout the play we sympathize first with Electricidad and then with her mother until we realize that there is no “right” here, merely a bad situation and two different opinions about how it should be dealt with. Each of the women, in her own way displays dignity, pride, family loyalty, and an understanding of the cholo code. The tragedy is that there is no good solution and both, ultimately, suffer for being caught in the middle.

Steven Decker has created a lovely set within the small confines of the Stage Two theater, using muted adobe and blue tones, setting votive candles into slanted boards, and giving center stage to a Dia de los Muertos type altar, dominated by a likeness of Our Lady of Guadelupe.

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