|Brent Harris and Mesafint Goldfeld in Ajax.|
It's true that director Sarah Benson (of Soho Rep fame) has some interesting ideas about the play - or at least they're interesting on paper; they don't gel on stage, for complex reasons. Not all the performances are strong (although a few are), and Ms. Benson strikes such a distant stance toward the material that the modern resonances she seems to be looking for (she has updated the action to Afghanistan or Iraq) never actually come clear. Is Athena supposed to be Condi Rice? Is that Obama as Odysseus? We wonder such things vaguely at times, but mostly we're thinking, Do I care?
And mostly no, you do not care - although sometimes you do. Brent Harris looks and sounds great as the gonzo Ajax, for instance (above), and brings a welcome jolt of whiteboy-freakout to every scene he's in. Still, he doesn't convey Ajax's actual arc - because he, and the production, seem to want to half-pretend Ajax is falling apart because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Unfortunately, that's not what Sophocles is saying; Sophocles is saying that Ajax is a professional killer who has finally gone off his leash ( he attempts to murder Odysseus and the other generals, but due to a delusion brought on by Athena, only succeeds in torturing some livestock).
What society owes such a killer for services rendered is the fundamental question of the play. And when Benson and Co. finally get around to it, the production finds something like its footing, thanks to a passionate turn by Nathan Darrow as Teucer, the sole defender of the once-glorious, but now suicidal Ajax, and some solid work from James Joseph O'Neil as Menelaus and (believe it or not) Thomas Derrah as Agamemnon. But up till then the production is consistently undermined by weaker work from Linda Powell (daughter of Colin Powell) as Ajax's captive consort, Tecmessa, and Ron Cephas Jones as a strangely blank Odysseus.
|Ajax and his chorus line.|