In 2006, Pittsburgh Public Theater knocked my socks off with Ted Pappas' direction of Oedipus the King. The propulsion of the story, along with the single-minded focus of the production, really made the evening memorable. So I was eagerly anticipating Pappas returning to Greek drama with Electra.
It starts out well, with James Noone's powerful set: Metallic, blood-stained castle walls give us an taste of the backstory. Many years ago, Clytemnestra the queen and her lover murdered the king. Daughter Electra saved her brother Orestes by sending him away with a servant.
Orestes is all grown up now and back to settle some scores. But in order to walk around freely, he circulates a story that he died in a chariot race. That's the first scene, with Edward James Hyland doing a great job playing the servant.
And then it goes south. Electra enters and wails. And wails. And wails. And wails. Which, apparently she's been doing since Daddy died two decades ago. For about 20 minutes she wails. And wails. And unrelentingly wails some more.
The only bright spot in her life has been the thought that Orestes might come back and kill people. But then here comes Electra's sister with the news that Orestes is dead.
And that's another interminable round of wailing. You know how you have a friend in a bad relationship and after a while, when you see the name on the caller ID, you stop answering? You're not happy your friend is miserable but, all right already, enough's enough.
Thirty minutes of unrelieved, high-voltage single-character wailing. Seriously. You know what, girlfriend? I'm sorry your Dad died 20 years ago! Sit down, shut up and do something with your hair.
Let me rush to say, however, that Catherine Eaton's performance as Electra is an impeccably executed daredevil stunt. She's simply playing what's written (how she maintains that intensity is miraculous) and Pappas is directing this Sophocles play exactly as it should be directed.
Still, outside of theatrical academics, I'm not sure there's an audience for such a static, emotionally one-note play. Considering the work the Public's put into it, I hope I'm wrong.
ELECTRA continues through Oct. 30. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown. 412-316-1600 or www.ppt.org