Oresteia: Ubuntu is a powerful show, mixing a classic Greek revenge cycle with testimony from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that manages to deliver a message of peace through a blood-red lens. The show’s main weakness: without a background on the Trojan War and South African apartheid, confusion will ensue. Fortunately for you readers out there, I went to the show with a Drama PhD candidate, whose 500-page dissertation just happens to be on the Oresteia cycle, and whose insights made the show a lot more meaningful.
The back story, not found in the nonexistent program and only partially pieced together throughout the play, is that Agamemnon, a general in the Trojan War, sacrificed his own daughter to curry Apollo’s favor for his troops. His wife is understandably horrified, and stabs him in the bath as soon as he gets home. Their son strikes back at his mother, and is brought to trial before the goddess, Athena.
Oresteia: Ubuntu draws its main plot from this Greek backdrop, but an African flavor was added by the show’s creators, J. Paul, Alex Motswiri, and Rufino Victor Nemagami and is visible in the frequent African dances and songs that sporadically break out (interestingly enough, in the same manner of a classic Greek chorus). The songs, while beautiful, are hard to relate to the story with no understanding of the African lyrics. Monologues of violence witnessed during apartheid also start to appear more and more frequently as the show goes on, and the large rubber tires being used as versatile props take on a sinister meaning. Excellent lighting accentuated the bloodiness of the story being played out, and despite the lack of facial cues due to large wooden masks, the actors’ voices convey all necessary emotion.
Several of the actors (it was hard to catch names without a program) had very rich voices that sounded excellent in the songs, and I was impressed by the fluidity with which many of the lines were spoken in unison, given that the show only had six days of rehearsal! Oresteia: Ubuntu has one more scheduled showing on August 28th, but the director also said to watch out for a guerilla performance at Bumbershoot, so you might get lucky. This was definitely a play worth seeing, and even when you don’t get the references makes you think twice about the need for justice vs. forgiveness.
Oresteia: Ubuntu by Tribes Project and African Tree Productions. Crown Hill Center, 9250 14th Ave. NW, Seattle, WA 98117 7PM Aug. 28. www.tribesproject.org