Nurse 2 … Sharon Scruggs
Electra … Theresa McCarthy
Helen … Jayne Amelia Larson
Phrygian Slave … Elvin Velez
Nod … Jernard Burks
John … Michael Malone
William … J. Ed Araiza
Patients … Christopher Adams, William
Buddendorf, Beau Van Donkelaar,
Jean Loup Wolfman
Nurse 1 … Sonya Martin
Nurse 3 … Stefanie Zadravec
Other Nurses … Tiffani Barbour, Jennifer
Dollard, Jennifer Harmon, Natalie
Kidd, Phaedra Philippousssis,
Orestes … Jefferson Mays
Farley, Trenchcoat Man … Stephen Speights
Menelaus … Jeffrey Sugarman
Tapemouth Man … Ramsey Farahallah
Tyndareus … Frank Raiter
Pylades … Steven Skybell
Apollo … Brendan Sexton III
Bodyguard … Greg Gunter
Choosing the rusty, lopsided steel skeleton of an old Hudson River pier as the looming backdrop for Charles L. Mee Jr.’s “Orestes” was nothing short of inspiration on the part of producer Anne Hamburger. Another of the En Garde Arts company’s site-specific shows, “Orestes” proves among the best.
Mee’s play picks up where “The Oresteia” left off: Orestes (Jefferson Mays), having killed mother Clytemnestra at the urging of sister Electra (Theresa McCarthy), and driven mad by the Furies, is in a mental ward awaiting execution.
Also slated for the chopping block is Electra, who encourages her brother to seek clemency from Uncle Menelaus (Jeffrey Sugarman) and Grandfather Tyndareus (Frank Raiter).
When their entreaties fail, brother and sister take part in a plot to murder Menelaus’ wife Helen (Jayne Amelia Larson) and kidnap his daughter, holding the girl hostage in exchange for their freedom.
If all of this sounds typically Greek, right down to the deus ex machina that sets things right, Mee and director Tina Landau have more adventuresome ideas. “Orestes” takes place in modern America, or at least an America seen through a David Lynch lens.
The beautiful Helen talks endlessly about skin-care products, grandfather Tyndareus spouts off about political correctness and hypocrisy, and Menelaus could be a stand-in for any number of Persian Gulf-era military hacks with political ambition.
But more impressive than any single characterization is an overall visual style that makes this two-hour, intermissionless comedy-drama a treat. The fall of the House of Atreus is played out against the 300-foot sagging steel sculpture that was once the Penn Yards pier, an apt metaphor for the societal breakdown and moral decay charted by Mee’s play.
In the tightly choreographed production, the actors — from Orestes to the Greek chorus of black-clad nurses — perform in stylized movement that serves Mee’s apocalyptic vision well.
Orestes’ fellow mental patients, maniacal with shaven heads and sunken eyes, speak in dialogue taken by the playwright from sources as varied as Soap Opera Digest and John Wayne Gacy.
Mee and Landau share a dark, offbeat humor that has the Greek chorus of nurses turn lounge act by breaking into Leon Russell’s “Superstar,” or Electra-as-chanteuse singing “Angel Eyes” amid the carnage. The cast performs exceptionally, but special mention should be made of McCarthy, Mays and Raiter.
Filtering his modern-day vision through Greek mythology, Mee presents an otherworldly tableau that is perfectly suited to the En Garde treatment. “Orestes” is a standout of the early summer theater season.