Update: The original article said the performance ran through Oct. 22 and Oct. 27-29. The show also runs on Oct. 26, which was omitted. Our apologies.
When Clytemnestra’s husband, Agamemnon, left for the Trojan War 10 years earlier, he sacrificed their daughter.
And now, he’s returned home in a less-than-happy homecoming, setting the scene for “Oresteia,” a UW-Eau Claire Theatre Arts department production that is opening tonight. Clytemnestra’s thirst for revenge leads her to murder her husband.
“That sets the entire trilogy in motion,” said Richard Nimke, coordinator of the Theatre Arts at Eau Claire.
Creating an adaptation
Nimke co-wrote and adapted Oresteia with UW-Stout faculty member Paul Calenberg, based on a Grecian trilogy by Aeschylus. It combines the three tragedies “Agamemnon,” “The Libation Bearers” and “Eumenides,” which includes themes of revenge and social justice.
“It’s really important for the arc of what the playwright’s initial intention was in putting this trilogy together that the three be told together ,“ he said. “It’s exciting to be able to tell the complete story.”
While the pieces are meant to be performed together, Nimke said, they rarely are because the length is too long for contemporary audiences. The duo’s adaptation condenses the trilogy into a performance that’s about 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission. Even though the production has been condensed, Nimke said he and Calenberg remained true to imagery, language and original story.
Nimke and Calenberg worked on their adaptation of “Oresteia” for the past four years, even traveling to Turkey while on sabbatical last year as part of their preparations.
Upon his return from sabbatical, Nimke found out about faculty and student interest in the production and the Theatre Arts department selected it as one of it’s performances for the 2011-2012 season.
“Everyone’s been really supportive of this project and excited about it,” he said.
Nimke admitted he was apprehensive about putting on “Oresteia” this semester because it is a big project, especially in terms of scenery and costumes,but there’s been a lot of enthusiasm.
“The students are excited,” he said. “I’m excited. It’s turned out to be a really great piece for all of the new staff and new faculty to work and collaborate on.”
Nimke estimates that there are more than 20 students in the cast and about 50 to 60 students involved in the crew and set and costume design.
Playing the part
In preparing for the role of Clytemnestra, senior Katie Gerarden looked to one of her favorite lines about how her character’s vengeance festered.
“You can only imagine, for 10 years, her plotting the death of this man,” she said. “She’s all alone in her home and she just thinks about it and thinks about it.”
Much of the preparation that Gerarden undertook was physical, as she wanted to portray the fluid, powerful woman who is described as “snakelike.”
“The hardest part of it was learning how to walk like her, mannerisms like her,” she said. “So that was a big challenge for me, trying to stay angry but appear OK.”
She added that she’s looking forward to all parts of the production finally coming together.
“It’s just going to be really amazing,” Gerarden said.
Nimke said he’s looking forward to seeing “Oresteia” in performance and audience reaction.
“I’m expecting the audience to really like this piece and that it’s going to be accessible to a contemporary audience,” he said.
“Oresteia” will open tonight in at 7:30 p.m. in Kjer Theatre through Oct. 22 and 26-29. There is a matinee performance at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.
To get tickets, visit the Service Center in Davies Center or online.