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Students take on tragedy of 'Electra'

Greek tragedy comes to Havre this week as Havre High School students put on their presentation of Sophocles' "Electra."

"It's a dynamic performance - lots of energy," said HHS English teacher and director Jay Pyette, who adapted the play from an English translation of the ancient Greek play.

Written in the fifth century B.C., the play follows Electra's efforts to get revenge for the death of her father, Agamemnon. There's just one problem: Electra's mother did the deed.

The play, which features both the tortured family dynamics and the stately emotional gravity that are typical of Greek drama, invites differing comparisons from cast members.

Cast member Joel Benson, 17, said it's like a Greek version of Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

Cast member Katie'B Jarvis, 18, sees it differently.

"I feel like it's more of a soap opera," Jarvis said. "The whole family-killing-off-family thing."

"The Greek style is just a lot different than contemporary drama," said senior Gwen Porter, who plays Electra. Heightened emotion and more sweeping body movements on stage are characteristic of the style, she said.

"It's neat to do a different style of play," added Porter, who was recently admitted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, where she will study for two years.

Pyette said he tries to put on different kinds of plays so his students get the most complete theater education they can.

"I like the power of Greek drama," he said. "And as a director it gives you the ability to be much more artistic and creative" than a lot of contemporary drama. "They're so open to interpretation," he added.

Pyette said he has tried to retain traditional aspects of the genre, like formal circular patterns in the stage movements, elevated style and the use of masks by some chorus members.

The chorus is a staple feature of Greek drama. The chorus embodies the strongest emotions on the stage and often engages in a kind of dialogue with the characters.

Between the cast and crew, more than 100 students were involved in the production, Pyette said. The cast of 23 has a fair number of newcomers to the stage, he said, but it has been a learning process for his seasoned veterans as well.

"It's been a challenge for a lot of the students because a lot of what you do in Greek theater goes against what I've been teaching them for four years," Pyette said. The elevated style and more pronounced movement can make the students feel like they're overacting, he said.

"It's not like the contemporary things that we've done. It's not even like the Shakespeare we've done," said cast member Katy Chambers, 17. "It's all in the voice inflection. Much more is conveyed with the voice because in traditional Greek (dramas) they all used masks."

This weekend will be the debut of a new automated lighting system in the theater.

"I really like the visual effects," Benson said. "It's like a disco onstage."

Lights that are by turns purple, red and blinding white set off the austere white costumes of the chorus members, who are constantly moving around the stage to form geometric patterns around the sable-clad Electra like a mismatched game of Othello.

A booming sound system completes the effect. Combine the juiced-up sound and lights with togas and the towering columns of the set, and the result is a new twist on an ancient play.

Everybody, Pyette said, probably has a concept of what Greek drama is.

"Hopefully we can challenge that a little," he said.

The play will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the HHS auditorium tonight, Friday and Saturday. The cost is $4 for adults, $3 for high school students and $2 for students K-8. Children younger than kindergarten are free.


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