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Elektra at the Getty Villa: A New Translation or a Rewrite?

September 7, 2010 in FEATURED, Theatre/Stage

Elektra is the third Greek drama I’ve been to see at the Getty Villa, and it’s the first I’ve been compelled to blog about. That should tell you something right there. I went to see a preview show Saturday night thanks to a belated birthday present from a dear friend, and I was so impressed I wanted to tell you all that you should go, but here’s the sad news–well, sad for you, good for the Getty and the troop–the show, which runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through 2 October, is already sold out. So then I wasn’t going to write about it, because I didn’t want to irk folks like Frank, and I didn’t want to gloat-post (“Look what I did that you can’t do…”). But then I read that it’s not impossible that seats will become available and so I’m back to posting about it. Besides I’d really love to get a take on the performance from someone who knows more about translations and/or classical drama than I do (and I know precious little, so that’s a lot of someones).

So yeah, if you’ve heard that the Getty is putting up Sophocles’ Elektra what you’ve no doubt heard is that Olympia Dukakis plays the chorus, which is, somewhat oddly in this production, not really a chorus at all but more like Dukakis and a sidekick along with a cellist. And sure, that’s noteworthy. Who doesn’t like Olympia Dukakis? But the real star of this show is Timberlake Wertenbaker’s translation, which was commissioned specially for this performance. And here’s where my questions come in: at what point does a translation cease to be a translation and become, instead, an interpretation? It’s been about a thousand years since I read Elektra (really, I think I was in high school, which means it was not only a thousand years ago but also that I was extremely stoned, so I truly don’t remember any detail), but it did, to my muddled memory, seem like the translation followed the sense of the play throughout. The language was almost hyper-contemporary at times, however. By itself, that would have probably gotten under my skin eventually (I am generally averse to the dumbing-down of things), but throughout the performance, at the moments of most heightened drama, the actors launched into pure Greek. It was delightful. Wertenbaker completely won me over. And really, like Stephen Mitchell’s Tao, the translation, while contemporary sounding, was extraordinarily poetical in its own right. I was so impressed that, if Wertenbaker’s translation is published, I’ll probably purchase it and read it.

As one would expect from a performance at the Getty, the acting was spot-on throughout. The other unexpected (to me) aspect of the performance was the music (cello, light percussion, and another odd sort of found-object-looking instrument I can’t name for you). Theresa Wong, the cellist, and Bonfire Madigan Shive (hippy parents anyone?), the composer, deserved their own ovation post-performance. Things that worked less well for me were the costuming, which was just too modern for my tastes, in the men’s jacket’s in particular–really, a leather jacket and a linen sport coat?–and the chain link fence part of the set design. The latter is explained this way in the program:

In designing this production, we wrapped the Getty facade in security tape and chain-link fencing to evoke the protective barriers Clytemnestra herself might have erected to defend against acts of reprisal. We are, of course, sadly accustomed today to the sight of public buildings becoming bunkers against possible “terrorist” attacks, and we are certainly accustomed to repetitive cycles of violence. Perhaps this is the real fascination of revisiting Greek drama: it is an occasion to look at our own experience through the unblinking lens of great tragedy.

I’d say, no, in fact, that’s not what the fascination is for me, nor do I expect that’s what draws most people. I could have just as well done without the chain link and leather jackets and amateurish references to terrorism, honestly. If I’m going to seek out a parable of some kind for our war against terror, Elektra wouldn’t be it.

The Upside of Mudslides

July 24, 2009 in Uncategorized

Adrian van Leen's Paving Bricks photo used under Creative Commons

I got a new computer this week, and in the process of transferring my data from one machine to the other, it occurred to me that this is the first time since I can remember that I’ve actually been able to salvage everything in a machine swap. The last two laptops I’ve had before this one died suddenly and completely. Kaput.* Gone were all the clever chat transcripts, the sweet emails, the occasional photo, random data orts, bookmarks… all gone in a moment when the systems bricked. Don’t get me wrong: Like some weirdo that stashes money under the mattress and in juice cans in the freezer, I do have my dissertation backed up in several places, but as for the rest of it, after the initial shock of data loss, I actually found myself strangely relieved. It’s like my documents and pictures and preferences take up all this space around me, and the spot where I fit nestled in there is largely defined by the datafield in  a face/vases sort of way. When all the data disappeared, I could kind of start over again. It was liberating. Read the rest of this entry →

Housing Market Crash Hits Carbon Beach

December 28, 2008 in Real Estate

Blonde and dog not included

Now I know the Los Angeles area housing market has crashed.  According to Dream Homes Los Angeles Magazine (which isn’t really a magazine, just a collection of glossy “homes for sale” ads), this home on uber-property Carbon Beach in Malibu is going for the fire sale price of $32 million.  In the back is an 80-foot stretch of “Billionaire’s Beach.” That comes to just $400,000 per foot of shoreline.  I think I’m going to sell my stock in sand.

(Photo of Carbon Beach by Matt Mason)