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The Tragedy of Agamemnon, with a modern flourish

By Vincent Smith / Staff Writer

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The story goes that Agamemnon came home from fighting in the Trojan War only to find his wife plotting his demise.

So much for a hero’s welcome.

The classic Greek tragedy evokes themes of war, justice and loss —  universal issues that transcend all of modern history.

Following Ted Hughes’ contemporary adaptation of the play, the University of Pittsburgh Stages presents a unique and modern take on “Agamemnon.” Performances will be held from Feb. 13 to 23 at the Henry Heymann Theatre located in the basement of the Stephen Foster Memorial performing arts center.

Hughes — perhaps best known for being the late Sylvia Plath’s husband — adapted the Greek tragedy along with the two other portions of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy in the last year of his life, making the production more relatable for contemporary audiences. Instead of Greek antiquity, the characters are surrounded by the chaos of war.

The director of the production, Dennis Schebetta, believes that Hughes’ version of the play finds a beautiful synergy between the feeling of the original and the updated setting.

“The play is updated for a modern audience, but it keeps a lot of the poetry,” said Schebetta.

It is the modern aspect that makes this rendition so relatable. 

“For many college students, half of their lives they have seen the U.S. at war,” Schebetta said, referring to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The play consistently asks poignant questions regarding when the right time to go to war is and what the costs of war are, Schebetta added.

Mallory Fuccella, who plays Cassandra —  Agamemnon’s war trophy and slave —  discussed how Stages’ rendition involves Secret Service members, as well as the occasional flutter of modern music playing in the background. But Fuccella stressed how the elements that make the play a classic are still present. 

“We’re not losing the language [of the original play],” she said. “That had to be preserved … but there aren’t any togas.” 

Melissa Italiano, who is playing the role of Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, echoed Fuccella’s sentiments, adding that the essential element of “Agamemnon” — the powerful, immersive characters — remain intact. 

“It’s an interesting and unique way of looking at the play, but it’s still those same characters,” Italiano said. 

The play is both intense and vicious, and Schebetta said that he believes people will be surprised by these elements. 

“It’s all very bloody and scary, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It’s kind of like a horror movie.”

“It’s kind of ironic that we are opening on the day before Valentine’s Day, but it is also kind of fun,” Schebetta said.

The play also incorporates political questions that deal with the proper methods and approaches to justice that many of these thinkers face.

“‘Agamemnon’ was written around the same time that democracy was coming to be in Greek times, so the plot discusses how that came into being,” Schebetta said. “It examines this idea of an eye for an eye versus a justice system that benefits everybody.”

For the members of the cast, these large moral questions serve to make the play timeless, and setting the performance against a backdrop of modern warfare only underscores this enduring relevance.

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The Tragedy of Agamemnon, with a modern flourish