Long before opening night, the second half of the Alley's two-part production of The Greeks was saddled with weighty responsibilities. There were narrative strings to tie off and themes to follow through from part one of the epic. But most important, there was an audience to please. And based on that group's lukewarm response to part one (its premiere night resulted in the only Alley main stage premiere this season that didn't end in a standing ovation) director Gregory Boyd had a problem to solve. Part two, The Gods, had to do more than simply depart from the trudging pace that marked The Wars and the Murders -- it had to figure out a way to be entertaining. And, in its own misguided way, part two is more entertaining than what preceded it, especially if it's been a while since your wheels touched down in Las Vegas.
The line of directing logic seems fairly clear here: Since part one's film-inspired vignettes pleased theatergoers more than did its stiffly whipped bombast, the creative team decided to go unabashedly for camp Hollywood -- the Hollywood that uses reedy snake-charming music to introduce ancient Egypt and that sends out an elderly harpy servant in a bustier, green clay mask and curlers.
Luckily, such antics are reserved primarily for a dumbed-down version of Euripides's Helen, the second of the five plays that make up part two. And thankfully, the evening's first play, Electra, escapes any such treatment. It appears to have descended from a planet all its own, the planet of inventive, thoughtful theater. Cast out by her mother, Clytemnestra, Electra seeks revenge for the murder of her father, Agamemnon. Electra wins in the interest category, hands down. She's angry, she's vicious and she gets what she wants. And because this is a Boyd production, she also gets to wear a great pair of leather pants. Sherri Parker Lee's powerhouse performance as a post-apocalypse version of Electra is wonderfully rendered. It's big and brash, with just the right touches of humility.
Too bad this spirit wasn't carried over into the evening's other four plays. But alas, the slight treatment of Helen is the spirit that endures, as do the play's dreadful costumes -- intensely unflattering tunics and fishnet stockings for the chorus and a high-riding bikini for the actress playing the world's most beautiful woman. In fact, the impression one carries away from The Greeks as a whole is that costume designer Susan Tsu's fascination with the derriere resulted in some of the nastiest costumes to hit any stage in recent memory.
If there's not much substance underneath the layers of costuming and tricky lighting in part two of The Greeks, there is more spectacle: James Black on a pair of stilts as Thoas, Shelley Williams in gold elevator shoes as Athene. And once again, what should come easily to a production of Greek plays -- a riveting sense of suspense, an absorbing narrative -- is cloaked in a fat, fluffy Vegas feather boa of production values.
The Greeks (part two) plays through April 27 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue, 228-9341.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.