Behind the Scenes at A.C.T.’s Elektra (by ACTSanFrancisco)
Tonight I saw this new staging of Sophocles’ Elektra. It raises, as it has for two millennia, the question yet again of justice. Unlike with Aeschylus, who rather powerfully demonstrates that retribution is an impoverished conception of justice; in the Elektra of Sophocles, retribution seems to be valorized and legitimated.
The audience is permitted to feel Elektra’s suffering more acutely than that of her mother Clytemnestra, though she is played beautifully by Caroline Lagerfelt in this rendition. Sophocles allows Clytemnestra to make her case, but it is quickly overwhelmed by the raw emotional power of Elektra, who is compellingly and masterfully portrayed by René Augesen.
But the character herself is indeed to powerful, too compelling; for we are made to experience the killing of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus as cathartic, as somehow just. But of course, it is no more justice than any retributive killing - it only fuels the cycle of self-destructive violence that has so long determined the manner in which humans respond to trauma.
The lesson of Aeschylus’s Oresteia is lost here in Sophocles’ Elektra. For where Aeschylus seeks to demonstrate that retributive justice is self-defeating, and thus incapable of serving as the root of a healthy political life, Sophocles seems to valorize it, and worse, to make us feel a powerful satisfaction in it, even when we should have learned, at this late date, that retributive justice is no justice at all.