Last weekend, the UC Follies presented Ted Hughes’ translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.
Agamemnon is the story of a man who returned from a 10-year war only to be murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, as vengeance for the horrible sacrifice of their daughter, a crime that Agamemnon committed after a priest told him it would turn the winds so that he could sail his army against Troy.
It may seem strange that the titular character of a play should appear only briefly in one scene, and die offstage in the next. Part of this may be owed to the fact that this man is a matter of much discussion amongst the other characters even before his appearance, his actions being instrumental in the leading of half of the city’s loved ones to distant graves.
But there are other arguments. Director Dorcas Chiu describes the written work as “intrinsically misogynistic”, referring mainly to the treatment of Clytemnestra. This was no turn-off to the director, who welcomed the flaws within the work as an opportunity for exploration of the relationship between women and power.
The majority of this tale is told by the “home-stayers”, the old, the women, and those who were deemed incapable of fighting. Through words and jolting pantomimic dance, the women on that stage express the concerns of the people. Clytemnestra commands all the attention: the shocking red cape among otherwise all-black costuming, the entrance from above—descending from a platform upstage whenever she must walk among “the rabble”—and the voice of the actor herself—strong, loud, proud, and full of wit. When her husband returns, she rolls out the carpet, but we don’t see the compassion her words suggest. The movement of man and wife together reveals the struggle for power within the relationship, one that Clytemnestra must ultimately win as she makes him “tread the crimson path”.
We must not forget Cassandra, either—a seer cursed never to be respected, stolen as a concubine in the sacking of Troy. This may tell enough about the power of women within the society, but we see her internal strength as she foretells the death of Agamemnon. She tugs at her own red bindings, tossing her captors to and fro, revealing who truly pulls the strings.
As evidence of the success of Chiu in their reimagining, when Clytemnestra confesses her crime and offers her murder to the gods, we feel a sense of justice.
By means of introduction, artistic producer Kevin Wong uses his space in the playbill to remind us of the brutal threats against feminists at the start of the semester. The hour-long performance on the UC Quad didn’t solve our problems in that regard, but it aimed to spark the conversation that we so clearly need to have. We may look forward to the UC Follies’ future feminist endeavors, and “remember how wisdom speaks through women”.