Sunday, February 7, 2021


 playwright’s note

I demand so much of my screen. Sex, news, love, conversation, shopping. I’m addicted to my phone. And through the attention I lavish on it, a new someone emerges online, at least as real as the embodied me. Me and not me. A kind of ghost that shadows me, demands things of me, even on the bus or in the grocery store. I/not I takes form in the still-forming space of online, a space of whispers and shouts, intimate and vast at the same time. A spiritual space.

In the original Orestes, there is a presence that stalks the shadows and emerges as Apollo at the end. Some demonic, god-like hybrid. I feel the same way about the internet. The perfect place for Greek tragedy.

The rules kept changing as we put this together. I am so grateful that I got to gather (virtually) with the talented people who made this show. Working without any sort of net. None of us knew what we were saying “yes” to. When COVID took our spaces away, we made a space in here.

Rick Roberts - Jan 2021

Powered by LIVELAB, the Tarragon online production of Orestes, adapted by Rick Roberts, is a vastly entertaining, engaging, and terrifying exercise in just about everything we are surrounded by in this day and age. A day and age apparently not so unlike so many bygone days and ages, as old as Greek tragedy and as debauched and humorous as Greek comedy. 

A stellar cast take the stage, or rather, their very separate performing spaces transmitted through cyberspace, and they manage to pull of  an amazing array of emotion and interaction over the course of a ninety minute tale of sex, lies, and messy dates with hubris, material wealth, and looking good in a bad situation.

Early on lists of high end products from clothing to everything capitliast, excessive, commodified and vainglorious, peppers the speeches of various characters - within which Roberts finds a rhythmic admixture of poetic and daily usage dialogue that never ceases to impress throughout. 

When lengthy monologues move toward a booming finale, in the hands of actors as adept as David Fox, Cliff Cardinal, and Richard Clarkin, Robert’s reaches a peak of playwriting skill that sharply reveals a cultural awareness allowing opposing viewpoints to possess equal weight. These hefty and convincing speeches live within a complex and corrupted world where inter-generational warfare has the aged blaming youth for their millennial traits and youth blaming the aged for carelessly abusing a planet and its inhabitants within a bludgeoned environment where constant, ever-increasing fear is the only emotion available. Thus a dramaturgical online sensibility that speaks of everything and nothing in a single breath. Notihng coming of nothing in the midst of it all. Lear-like, apocalyptic, and wildly entertaining.

The entire ensemble excels, with Lisa Ryder as a glamorous somewhat bewildered Helen and Krystin Pellerin as a more ‘down to earth’ yet equally intense and captivating Electra. Cues are picked up seamlessly in this distanced theatre setting, creating an action-packed, breakneck tale. What could have been static boxes of histrionic self-satisfaction becomes a textured array of ensemble acting - supported beautifully by costume, sound, and set designers working within a whole new realm of theatre expertise and innovation.

Cliff Cardinal in the tile role creates a youthful, manic flow as his speech patterns sound alarmingly and appropriately like someone speaking in their influencer, branding, online dialect. His captivity is well caught in a simultaneously open yet claustrophobic 'cell' that ultimately becomes a screen for faces watching him - giving the production a high tech feel that could easily work onstage. Not so unlike techniques used by artists such as Robert Lepage, among others, this production holds the promise of a lush form of online theatre that borrows and utiliizes techniques we were already beginning to see in live theatre in recent decades. A live version with onstage actors in front of screens would create another layer of this already multi-layered yet, by necessity, one dimensional viewing space. Finding depth in a single dimension, director Richard Rose has orchestrated a rich array of sight and sound.

A highlight  of the show is a speech near the end where theatre veteran David Fox displays his typically eloquent and impeccable way of delivering a moving monologue, not so unlike the Lear he mastered at Theatre Passe Muraille not so long ago. An angry older despot making strong, seemingly articulate points through a textured yet narrow misidentifying gaze where he sees all the faults of one generation and misses the faults of his own, only to be lambasted by the impetuous yet spot-on declaration of the young, angry, and equally as articulate Orestes.

Orestes, a tale for the ages, and the extremely altered stages of current theatre - is well worth seeing for the sheer skill of a production team that confronts the challenges of being 'live' in a pandemic and succeeding with immense power and the flawed tragic grace of characters more than half in love with themselves.

ORESTES by Rick Roberts (Tarragon). Live-streaming at through February 14, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, Wednesday 10 am, Thursday 1:30 pm, Sunday 2:30 pm. $15-$20. 

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