Mourning Becomes Electra

Mourning Becomes Electra
a kate west review
by Eugene O'Neil
directed by Geoff Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott
A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd. Glendale 91204
running April 8 -
May 29, 2005; contact (818) 240-0910 or

“Mourning Becomes Electra” by Eugene O’Neil is as darkly oppressive as the tortured author’s life itself. Born in the late 1880’s, O’Neil endured a troubled and unstable home. Unhappy and bitter all of his life, he died in 1953, convinced that life was generally miserable. Adapted with stunning clarity from the Oresteia Trilogy by Greek Tragedian Aeschylus, and as is the case with so many of O’Neil’s works, “Mourning Becomes Electra” is about family dynamics, the burden of which plagued O’Neil all of his life. Set in post-Civil War New England, it tells the story of a doomed family dynasty.

Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon (William Dennis Hunt) comes home from war, only to discover that his wife Christine (Deborah Strang) no longer desires him when she finally confesses that she never loved him and has taken a lover, Captain Adam Brant (Geoff Elliott). Lavinia (Libby West) is the jealous daughter, who, like Electra in the Greek tragedy, plots against her mother (like Clytemnestra) and worships her father (like Agamemnon).

Christine makes the first move by murdering her husband and Lavinia happens to catch her in the act, the daughter’s worst fear come true. Brother Orin (Doug Tompos) comes home shortly after, like his Greek equivalent Orestes, shell-shocked from war and ready to wreak vengeance. Tied to his mother’s apron strings his whole life, he refuses to believe his sister’s account of events, until they actually catch Christine embraced in her lover’s arms.

The resulting tragedy lasts a whopping three hours and forty-five minutes and leaves the audience drained, but never bored. O’Neil knows his stuff. A Noise Within does a competent job with this difficult piece of material. Co-directors Geoff Elliott & Julia Rodriguez Elliott pace the actors well, unfolding the trilogy with heavy but sure hand. Set Designer Michael C. Smith and Costume Designer Julie D. Keen recreate 1880’s New England quite well. The war uniforms look authentic, as do the swirling hoopskirts on the women. The stone-like mausoleum slab in the middle of the stage serves as a constant metaphor of death, easily converted into a cold marriage bed when the occasion arises.

Libby West, as Lavinia, is a bit stiff at first, partly because her character is so tortured and unexpressive. Warming up by the end, Lavinia becomes her mother all over again, with all the fiercely dangerous sexuality. Her black dress in the beginning is later exchanged for the vibrant green colors of her mothers. Doug Tompos is good as the equally suffering brother, becoming convincingly insane by the end.

The supporting cast, love interests Toby Meuli (Peter Niles) and Hazel Niles (Amy Chaffee), are fine, representing a normal, balanced family which is almost sucked into the dreaded darkness of the Mannon family, but thankfully escapes that fate at the end. Deborah Strang, as the domineering matriarch, is strong and expressive, going from a powerful force of nature to a terrified victim of fate.

Like the Furies of Greek mythology, vengeance is exacted with brutal inevitability. No one escapes retribution. The chilling moment at the end, when the sole family heir and survivor is literally entombed in the Mannon household, is well done indeed. Faithful servant Seth (Apollo Dukakis) pounds hammer into window shutters, echoing nails into a coffin and thus we know that justice has been served. The Mannon legacy, rife with haunted memories and a legacy of the doomed can finally be put to rest. The ghosts of the past will be silent.

So if you’re up for almost four hours of heavy drama, know that O’Neil is rarely light, yet always reveals the raw truth of human nature. Be prepared for great insight.

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A Play Without Words

A Play Without Words
a kate west review
devised by Matthew Bourne, music by Terry Davies
inspired by Joseph Losey's film, based on "The Servant" by Robin Maugham
A New Adventures / National Theatre Production
at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 North Grand Ave, Los Angeles 90012
playing April 8 – May 29, 2005; contact 213-628-2772 or

Matthew Bourne must know how ultra-cool he is. The sophisticated choreographer and creator of the 1995 ground-breaking new version of “Swan Lake” brings his latest work of art to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles and wows audiences yet again with his signature style and aplomb. “A Play Without Words” is just that – a stylized unfolding of intrigue, without words and with much to decipher. First of all, the music is incredible. Sexy jazz tunes created by Terry Davies, specifically for this performance, prevail throughout, setting the silky suave mood. Musical Directors Michael Haslam and Benjamin Pope keep the pace well. The soundtrack, combined with Bourne’s sure-handed choreography and direction, makes for a truly knock-out production.

Each character is portrayed by three different dancers, so there are always a multitude of people on stage, each one acting out a different nuance of the story. There is no dialogue, the dancers relying solely on music and choreography to tell their story. Based on the classic film by Joseph Losey (from Robin Maugham’s “The Servant”), the story is about a worldly couple, living in 1960’s hip London, bored with life and each other. Two servants live with them, who scheme to bring down their masters a notch or two. The resulting drama is exciting and extraordinarily well-executed.

Dancers include Sam Archer, Ewan Wardrop, Richard Winsor, Michela Meazza, Anjali Mehra, Emily Piercy, Scott Ambler, Steve Kirkham, Eddie Nixon, Maxine Fone, Valentina Formenti and Alan Vincent. It is fascinating to watch the different areas of the stage where different parts of the story play out. Matthew Bourne is terrific at expressing dimension in dance and emotion and both are always crystal clear. Already well-known for such brilliant modern productions as “Swan Lake”, “Cinderella” and “Nutcracker”, his current production of “A Play Without Words” is no exception to his prolific roster of gems.

A pure delight, this production is definitely a must see. Witty, sexy, groovy and fun, its intensity steams up the stage, riveting the audience, so much that you can hear a pin drop. It will not disappoint, so hurry and join in another innovative Bourne event, as soon as you can. Read more!

TIVO (and Netflix)

a kate west reflection

TIVO is a wonderful technological gift. A gift and a curse. On the one hand, it gets rid of all those pesky commercials you'll never have to watch again, but on the other, it's extremely addictive. I thought I would end up spending less time in front of the t.v. but now I actually end up spending more, because you can watch a recorded program while you're taping another and then watch that one after. It never ends. And since my genes are prone to addiction, this is exactly the kind of modern escapism I would indeed succumb to.

For those cave dwellers amongst you, TIVO is a DVR system you hook up to your cable box allowing you to record programs which you can fast forward through later. It's a fun toy for sure. But are we now becoming even more disconnected, especially car dwelling Angelenos? Especially for certain people (who, me?) who subscribe to cable, TIVO and Netflix (a brilliant mail-in DVD rental program). Who ever needs to leave the house then?

Remember reading? Sigh. And we wonder why I'm still single ....

Change your life too!
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The Derby

The Kentucky Derby
"The most exciting two minutes in sports"
a kate west reflection

I spent my childhood in Louisville, Kentucky and the thing we are most proud of there, of course, is Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Oh, and mint juleps.

My father says Kentucky is a good place to be from. He prefers the ocean. And liberalism. But as a child I loved it all, even the extreme weather, the snow days staying home from school and the humid summers that come with that cicada tsss-tsss-tsss sound. Real south, man, and yes that grass really is blue. I never got to go to the Kentucky Derby (not yet, anyway), but I've been to many horse parks and to Churchill Downs itself, off season. It is a magnificent racetrack, with those famous spires and that spotless track. I loved horses as a child (what girl didn't?) and read plenty of "Black Stallion" and every other horse book I could get my hands on. Horse racing seemed romantic to me back then. I don't really feel that way anymore, except once a year, during the Kentucky Derby.

Run the first Saturday of every May since the late 1890's, it is indeed a blink-of-an-eye two minute race, this sport of kings. For competing two to three-year olds only, it's "The Run For The Roses" and is part of the Triple Crown, which also includes the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Ladies wear big hats, everyone sings Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" and by God, they all drink mint juleps (recipe below). With enough money, you can sit old school style, unless you want to try the cheap seats (think bleachers) in the infield, but I'm too old to jostle with that rowdy crowd.

It's one of the few elegant sports we have left in America, often written about and filmed. It sure does provide great cinematic drama, as we hold our breaths right down to the wire (the finish line). A long line of quality horse breeding precedes the modern version, from Triple-Crown winner Secretariat to poor Barbaro (so recently put down). You don't have to be a Racing Form expert to enjoy the spectacle and whether or not you finish Win, Place or Show, it's the best horse race around.


2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water (branch water is ideal)
Fresh Mint
Crushed Ice
Premium Kentucky Bourbon (2 ounces per serving)

Make a simple mint syrup by boiling sugar and water together for 5 minutes; cool. Place in a covered container with 6 or 8 bruised mint sprigs. Refrigerate overnight. Fill a julep cup or glass with crushed ice, then add 1 tablespoon of mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon. (Bruise mint by placing in a cup and gently passing the back of a spoon between cup and the leaves a time or two.)Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost outside of cup or glass. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig. Keep remaining covered syrup in refrigerator sans mint leaves.

Read More About It:
The Kentucky Derby: Run for the Roses

The Mint Julep:
Kentucky Mint Julep

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