Jean Paul Sartre’s play "The Flies" in a BAAC production at the Waldron directed by Amanda Renee Baker is based on Sophocles’ "Oresteia. It’s a powerfully presented, amazingly rich piece of theatre. Imagine Orestes as Shakespeare’s wavering, vengeful Hamlet. Think of his sister Electra as a woman who encourages murder, but then is destroyed by it, a minor Lady Macbeth. Finally, stretch your mind to a confrontation of man and God that echoes the book of "Job," but turns it upside down. There, you have a rough idea of what is offered.
Orestes, played by Bobby Hackett, comes to the town of his family. Years ago he was left out in the woods to die, but luckily survived. He’s accompanied by his old tutor, the abundantly droll Kris Lee. Orestes finds an entire village enslaved by the repentance they feel for having passively allowed Queen Clytemnestra and her paramour Aegistheus to murder King Agamemnon. It’s a repentance that is poisonously nourished by a yearly festival of the dead cleverly staged by Aegistheus, potently played by Franc Buczolich, and the Queen, acted with regal yet empty elegance by Danielle Bruce.
Orestes, in disguise as a wandering student, meets his sister, the deeply bitter Electra, played by Nicole Bruce. Her wide a range went from selfish girlish innocence through exuberant womanly pride to the portrayal of a thoroughly whipped teenager. Electra encourages him to avenge his father’s death. When Orestes kills Aegisthus and the Queen, Electra is conscience stricken. She falls into the same repentance that has subjugated the town.
Throughout the proceedings, David Wald as an almost puckish Zeus, has been following the proceedings. Zeus understands doom, but battles mightily to maintain his sway. In a masterfully staged finale, Zeus powerfully claims dominion over all creation including man. It’s a moment that resonates with the book of "Job." But Sartre’s Zeus is no Adonai. Orestes, in actor Hackett’s best scene, denies the god’s rule, and asserts his freedom. He claims justice as a quality, existing only in the relations of man to man. Orestes does acknowledge responsibility, but refuses to be shackled by thoughts of repentance. In Sartre’s "The Flies" as in Sophocles’ "Oresteia," responsibility is a fierce thing, a thing that may even pursue a free man.
"The Flies" was written and produced in occupied Paris in 1943 and it was profoundly a political piece. Sartre felt that the Nazi’s with the help of the collaborative Vichy government had indeed paralyzed France with the yoke of repentance. Repentance was an end in itself that denied real responsibility and active resistance." The Flies" is a serious piece of theatre and the battle over repentance, written as ‘noble guilt,’ versus real responsibility. It’s a real issue in the world that goes on every day and everywhere.
What I’ve said may sound a bit daunting and perhaps not much fun, but don’t be deterred. I did, and do, wish that there was some cutting in the speeches and scenes, but they are good speeches and scenes. The plot of "The Flies" is both strongly traditional and very much tailored in unique ways. Mike Price’s improvised percussion score effectively sets moods, emphasizes points and bridges from scene to scene. The characters are interesting, well presented and richly detailed. Director Amanda Renee Baker has a thorough grasp of the theatrics and keeps things moving smoothly and seamlessly through an active, skillfully varied pace from moment to moment.
Jean Paul Sartre’s "The Flies" directed by Amanda Renee Baker, plays this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sunday at two in the auditorium of the John Waldron Arts Center.