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Review: 'Home Siege Home' at Inside the Ford

April 3, 2009 | 11:00 am

Home Siege Home_Elektra and Clytemnestra fight Epic plays -- like epic movies, novels and operas -- require a down payment of time and energy that only truly devoted audiences are usually prepared to fork over. Endurance is the name of the game. It's an investment that promises an immersive experience transcending the normal boundaries of the art form.

You'll need plenty of stamina to get through "Home Siege Home," a postmodern retelling of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy presented by the Ghost Road Company at Inside the Ford theater. This ambitious piece of cerebral theater makes considerable demands on viewers' intellects and derrieres. In terms of simple dramatic payoff, however, it yields only break-even returns at best.

Written and directed by Katharine Noon, "Home Siege Home" updates the Oresteia to a vague present-day world and replaces Aeschylus' verse with an informal, contemporary vernacular. But the main characters remain mostly the same -- the long-absent king Agamemnon (Ronnie Clark); his vengeful queen Clytemnestra (Trace Turville and Christel Joy Johnson); and their damaged offspring, Elektra (Mandy Freud) and Orestes (Ronald Wingate).

Their bloody saga is narrated by Hermione (Brian Weir, in drag), who serves as our guide through this tale of regicide, matricide and filicide. As the body count climbs, the tragic cycle of these flawed characters deepens exponentially, each plot twist carving a new tide pool of recrimination and guilt.

"Home Siege Home" merely glosses Aeschylus' tragedy but the production still manages to clock in at more than three and a half hours. (The play can be seen over two evenings or in back-to-back performances.) Initially, the novelty of Noon's approach is captivating. The clash of antiquity and contemporary life generates colorful sparks and the free-form casting (actors assume multiple roles) creates a pleasant form of discombobulation.

But it soon becomes apparent that the production's po-mo contortions are more stylistic than substantive. The total mise-en-scene is suffocating and the stage feels art-directed to death, with every corner crammed with symbols and important signifiers. Noon's dialogue is unimaginative and at times downright awkward; if nothing else, it will make you miss the poetry of Aeschylus.

The performances range from good to atrocious, which can only be expected with material this uneven. By far the strongest turn comes from Weir, whose all-seeing Hermione is the calm center of the play's incestuous hurricane. It's never clear why the actor is playing the role in drag, but Weir is so convincing that it hardly matters. His performance has a rueful modesty that manages to float above much of the chaos.

The Oresteia has inspired many creative re-imaginings, most notably Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra," which is set during the American Civil War. "Home Siege Home" doesn’t come close to O'Neill's epic in terms of conceptual sturdiness. The production's avant-garde touches -- like turning the mythological Furies into a trio of catty society ladies -- are often clever but not terribly illuminating.

In the end, it's not always clear how seriously the audience is supposed to take "Home Siege Home." The tone gyrates from high solemnity to campy awfulness. This is an epic play that challenges the mind and the patience equally.

-- David Ng

"Home Siege Home." Inside the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. Visit www.fordtheatres.org for show times. Ends May 3. $20 (single admission); $30 (both shows). (323) 461-3673. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (Part One); 2 hours, 15 minutes (Part Two).

Photo: Mandy Freud, left, and Christel Joy Johnson. Credit: Mark Seldis.

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