Actor’s Perspective: The Oresteia

By Emily Gustafson

emilygustafson-grayscale-cropped-smallerI don’t remember a time I didn’t love stories about Greek gods and the humans they meddled with. It wasn’t the sort of knowledge I broadcasted. Most people don’t want a child telling them stories from a civilization that peaked 2500 years ago, and it certainly wouldn’t have made me friends on the playground.

In college and “the real world,” my enthusiasm for Greek mythology got sidelined. I still loved the stories, but that’s all they were. They weren’t relevant to the issues I cared about, were separated by thousands of years from 21st-century struggles for equal rights and justice. Why spend time on something irrelevant, so distant from the reality I lived in?

Enter Hero Now Theatre and The Oresteia. From the beginning, Kristin pressed the importance and timeliness of this ancient play. The venue made this paradox visible: the sculpture garden’s ancient boulders surrounded by modern northeast Minneapolis; the roar of planes while torches cast shadows in our makeshift amphitheater; the trial pitting Orestes against the Furies contrasted with today’s justice system.

Greek theater has a bad rep: it’s out of touch, cold, ceremonial. Hero Now’s Oresteia blew those assumptions apart. Cast members breathed life into each character. The script is taut and lyrical and something 21st-century Americans can understand. And Zoran’s sculpture garden made everything magical. I forgot we were performing outside in the middle of a city. It was a physically intense process, no doubt—we found new bruises every day (and the mosquitos and rain!), but our theater of stones existed outside of time, Argos and Minneapolis coexisting for the duration of our performance.

I am still astonished by how well The Oresteia mirrors our own society. The flaws and favoritism of the Greek’s justice system and the cycle of blood and retribution particularly stuck me as relevant to movements like Black Lives Matter. I mentioned it to my father, and he agreed. “It’s like Aeschylus predicted the future,” he said. “He was a Seer, almost. He saw that these things would still be relevant years after he wrote it.”

Those Greek stories I thought were so irrelevant have been passed down for a reason. As ancient as The Oresteia is, it wrestles with justice, family ties, the importance and flaws of the state, sexism, religion, and any number of issues that challenge us today. And that was really the whole point—the old and new combining to make something that was timeless and critically relevant to our moment of political and societal upheaval.