For the Phoenix, the cycle of brutality spins, not just within the ancient House of Atreus, but, by implication, within our own war-torn society. After all, in both Aeschylus's and Maxwell's time, weary citizens of powerful nations yearn for the end of a senseless 10-year-long war in a distant, Asian land.
Aeschylus's godlike Agamemnon returns in arrogant triumph, only to be cut down by his wife, Clytemnestra, who seeks bloody vengeance for the sacrifice, a decade earlier, of their innocent daughter, Iphigenia. But in Maxwell's version, Agamemnon (played by Joe Menino) is decidedly less heroic.
Demented with grief and regret over his daughter's death, he comes home an addled shell of his former self, a non-Homeric vision of post-traumatic stress. His relationship with his love slave, Cassandra (Kelli Holsopple), takes on a disturbing filial dimension, as he frequently confuses her with his long-lost "Genie."
This is one of several moving ideas undercut by Maxwell's occasionally dull poetry and the uneven acting from some of director Amy Wagner's company. Only Elise Stone as the avenging queen consistently elevates the production to a powerful level. With rich vocal tones and an austere presence, Stone's Clytemnestra commands the stage (in spite of the unflattering costumes of Margaret McKowen).
Josh Tyson acquits himself well as the surviving soldier who first washes ashore bearing horrific eyewitness accounts of the battlefront. While Tyson at first overacts his way through awkward stretches of dialogue with three mostly annoyingly adolescent-like Chorus members (Amy Fitts, Zoë Watkins, and Brittany Pooler), he eventually settles into some genuinely affecting, albeit non-Aeschylean moments of rage against the machine.
Other characters are played unwisely for laughs. As the exhausted Watchman, Craig Smith chooses not to deliver the news of the approaching ships with dramatic haste, but dithers for a prolonged, tension-deadening stretch, while the Aegisthus of Brian A. Costello comes off less as a fearsome usurper to the throne and more as a cohort of King Tut on the campy 1960s TV series Batman.
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