Children of Light
Sacramento, CA 95816
Two years ago, the Sacramento Theatre Company staged Electricidad, a potent adaptation of the classical Greek tragedy Electra, by California playwright Luis Alfaro. He moved the story into a gang-infested Los Angeles neighborhood, a context in which the story’s focus on honor and blood for blood reverberated beautifully. Alfaro also cloaked some scenes in comedy, including actress Janis Stevens’ over-the-top portrayal as a perpetually manipulative, sexy senior citizen.
Children of Light, another limber script drawing on Electra, landed in Sacramento last weekend with Stevens both directing and playing a pivotal role in the finale of this new version of the old story by playwright Rick Foster. While the story is told in more sober terms, dressed in very different garb—and while Foster leads the story to a different conclusion—it’s still Electra. And this production delivers a shocking, visceral jolt as the blades come out, we hear a scream and family vengeance is taken.
Foster and Stevens are longtime collaborators; he wrote Vivien, the marvelous one-woman show about movie star Vivien Leigh, which they eventually took to the Magic Theater in San Francisco and subsequently to New York, where Stevens earned a Drama Desk nomination for best solo performance. The show had an encore run at the Sacramento Theatre Company.
Stevens has a true talent for tragedy; she’s also played an Irish Medea in By the Bog of Cats (another California Stage production).
In this show, Stevens appears as Klytemnestra very late in the tale. Though her time onstage is comparatively brief, she is in her glory for every moment—radiating pride and scorn and a twisted sort of maternal love as she’s drawn into an ending that’s both inevitable and horrifying. Stevens is one of the best actresses we’ve seen anywhere for this kind of role.
But we already knew that Stevens is good. The pleasant surprise (OK, maybe “pleasant” isn’t quite the right word) is the almost equally gritty, intense performance by young, slender Brittaleigha Baskerville (a student at American River College) as the obsessed Electra. She’s got the look, she’s got the voice and—with only a few exceptions on opening night—she was very much on top of her numerous lines in a very demanding part. She’s one to watch; this is a notable performance.
Jammy Bulaya acquits himself well as Electra’s long-lost brother Orestes. Also good is Eric Baldwin, playing a comic ditch digger and Pylades, the scheming priest of Apollo. Rounding out the cast are Acacia Fisher, Lauren Nardozzi and Sara Sells as a female chorus.
Playwright Foster works the gender divide; there’s a tension between Apollo (served by men) and the Goddess (worshipped by women) throughout, and a focus on the duty of the son ahead of the daughter in avenging their father’s death. There’s also an upstairs-downstairs division between the palace and the town, with the little people gasping as the mighty rise and fall.
The costumes by Gail Russell and set—based on a concept by Stevens—suggest ancient Greece, but Foster’s language comes from present-day California. There’s no high-flown retro verbiage. The show takes its time building up momentum.
But once it’s on a roll, look out.