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'Just Deserts' revitalizes an old classic tale

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SEPTEMBER 04, 2014

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Juliette Capra as the wing designer. In fact, Megan Messinger was the wing designer.

Orestes gets it in every Greek tragedy. Aeschylus and Euripides set him up with horror and madness, and every playwright sends the Furies after him. Berkeley-based playwright Carol Lashof is no exception, punishing that same sad man in “Just Deserts.” This play of revenge perpetrated on the great avenger is unique in its female point of view, fresh dialogue on classic themes and wings. In this version of the classic tale, Orestes is subject to trial by fury.

After Queen Clytemaenestra kills King Agamemnon, Orestes always decides to seek revenge. In almost every version of the story, Orestes seeks out his mother and her lover and kills them both. Though this vengeance seems righteous to him, the Greek gods do not look favorably upon kinslayers, no matter what their motive. Thus, Orestes stands trial and his jury is made up of the most unforgiving jurists of all time: the Furies. Alecto, Maegara and Tisiphone are the bloodthirsty opposite of the Fates, coming in only once the deed is done to decide what is deserved. “Just Deserts” is fittingly titled — much of the script hinges on what Orestes deserves. What is served, however, is more desserts; a dark and decadent disemboweling of misogyny, told in wondrous and winged prose.

Allie, Meg and Tizzie present a swirling set of counterpoints in this new twist on an old tale.

Sofia Ahmad as Alecto/Allie is captivating, with a predatory stage presence that makes it difficult to remember to watch other people. Luckily, Rebecca Castelli as Megaera/Meg has a voice like a bell that snaps attention to her lines with beauty and terror. Louise Chegwidden as Tisiphone/Tizzie is vitally physical, as eloquent with her body as most actors are with only their words. In this way and in their incredibly integrated performance, the three stars form a cohesive and hypnotic unit. The three Erinyes, as the Furies are known in Greek, clearly enjoyed the fruits of cooperative rehearsal, appearing seamlessly joined as women who were born triplets.

Davern Wright is thought-provoking as Orestes. He brings forth the terrible vulnerability of the male ego, embodied as a handsome and virile character who contains grief like a liquid bottled under pressure. In the play’s climactic moments, he gives off an edgy brittleness, playing up his finite humanity against the fey and murderous Furies’ eternity. Wright’s talent is considerable; standing up against the triumvirate of women in this play is no small task. He acquits himself quite well.

Technically, this show benefits in no small part from its venue: The Metal Shop Theater in Berkeley. A lesser-known venue, this intimate space is excellently suited to productions of this tight size and scope. Visually, Megan Messinger the “wing mistress,” creates the most memorable element of the play. The wings of these Furies are at once powerful and sinister, adding another layer of inhumanity and predation to the larger-than-life performance turned in by Ahmad, Castelli and Chegwidden. Messinger’s fight choreography makes commendable use of the space and of the size differences in the cast. Their combined efforts elevate an already crackling script into a sparkling spectacle. “Just Deserts” is a lemon tart of a play; a splendidly sour success.

Ultimately, the credit for this balanced and well-paced performance must go to Carol Lashof — who wrote an original play after a worn-out classic — and director Elizabeth Vega, who brought it so brightly to life. The Metal Shop Theater, hosting Those Women Productions, allowed for admittance based on a suggested donation and a philosophy of “radical hospitality,” which contributed to a lively and very diverse crowd. The outcome of this combination was a true community-based theater experience. While every other playhouse in the Bay Area fills its seats with the same aging crowd, “Just Deserts” is offering something surprisingly new, and drawing a new audience. It is absolutely worth seeing, with or without a grasp of Greek mythology. This play works on multiple levels, and satisfies as diverse an audience as it attracts.

“Just Deserts” runs through Sept. 7 at The Metal Shop Theater in Berkeley.

Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

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