From a dark stage peopled by the shadows of people, four Regent-Councillors step forward. They vote to kill a man not there--a man who has bought and sold the human soul, yet dies a martyr for the truth. The viral truth his death was to conceal spreads and infects; like the worm of Solomon, it shatters only what resists it most. When Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and Cassandra die, the victims of the ineluctable pest--"the right outstripped her strength"--, the weak remain to shield their dead from the night.
William Alfred's Agamemnon is only incidentally a Greek tragedy. Rather, a world with a clearer justice than our own, his Agamemnon suits the tuxedoed gentlemen and gowned ladies who made it live in the theatre as well as those, more colorfully garbed, who live it in less pellucid form outside. It is a world of diamantine retribution; the wages of Agamemnon's and Clytemnestra's infidelity are hard and glittering.
But this world suits the actors and their audience less because of the Ideals it embodies than because of what it lets them see of themselves. Aegisthus, commissioned to kill his own father, finds a man "Shaken by disgust / At the whoring of his belly after a life / His mind was through with." And Philo, the one Regent-Councillor who abstained from voting for death, asks what has become of the time "When by some strong geometry of love / The law and right were one, the thing and its use, / The man and the life he'd made his own? All gone."
It is the same diabolic Moeris, leader of the Council of Regency, leader of the vote for death and of those who would shield their dead, who tells Clytemnestra: "See: all is well. / It is the tournament of open minds / That settles things." "And patience," adds the court poet Aegon. The mind harries Alfred's characters. "My mind is a burnt hand / That clutches for the evasive flame that burned it, / For that and nothing else." So Clytemnestra sees her love for the country beau, Aegisthus, who has unlocked her. In the end, when the diamond of justice has cut down the strong around him, Aegisthus sees: "What makes us princes but this war in us / Of what we are with what we want be?"
It is this war that Director Daniel Seltzer created in last weekend's concert reading of Agamemnon. He had help: what we are and what we want to be took on separate bodies. Agamemnon (David Stone), tall, lean unhappy king is cousin to Aegisthus (Paul Schmidt), less unhappy, not at all king. Cassandra (Lynn Milgrim) wears the colors--saffron--of the dead daughter of Queen Clytemnestra (Frances Gitter). Further, the director had the help of superb actors--actors so strong individually that, for the most part, they could pool their strength in affecting their audience instead of competing to affect it.
In spite of the strength of all the actors--so distinguished a set of readers would be rare anywhere--Frances Gitter carried the whole of Agamemnon with her when she spoke or was silent, moved or was moved. Her voice and presence simply filled the Loeb. To be sure, she left room for Agamemnon, Cassandra, and Aegisthus, but only David Stone, and at times Daniel Seltzer (Aegon), could command a place. One would have liked to see Lynn Milgrim alone, not overwhelmed; but even with Clytemnestra there, she spoke a Cassandra that thrilled.
Aside from Alfred's exultant leap over the railing Friday night, and Eubolus' unfortunate, though hilarious, fall off the stage Saturday, this production allowed itself only one major piece of stage drama. In the fourth act, the old crippled woman Mainas (expertly voiced by Joan Tolentino) draws the scene of Iphigeneia's death in a panoply of colors: the yellow beard of the priest, the flowers blue and red and yellow; "I saw the white tents on the ocher sand, / And the staring eye-green sea, and all those men / In their silver breast-plates, and the stones / They laid her on, and the sleeves of her dress--" the saffron dress with the golden border. Then the black and white men of court return and Aegon thinks of "Lesbos when the beach turned gray" and "the gray stallion of the autumn." And finally Clytemnestra returns--with neither her husband nor his mistress, but with the blood of both. She flings her cloak open: it shines blood scarlet. She wraps it around her; still the scarlet lining shows, till the last light is out and there is silence.