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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Hippolytos (Fringe)

by Rebecca Ugolini

Greek tragedy probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “Fringe Festival”, but Oimoi’s production of Euripides’ classic tragedy Hippolytus is anything but traditional. Translators Carina de Klerk and Lynn Kozak’s  modern English version of the play meets with an eclectic soundtrack including electronic music custom-made by Virek (Nick Donaldson), a mini-drag show by Antonio Bavaro’s alter-ego Connie Lingua (as Aphrodite), and rap/spoken-word performance by Lindsay Wilson (as The Chorus). Supported by the play’s cast of seriously talented actors, these modifications are welcome variations on some old themes: lust, shame, and fate.
The plot is familiar enough: tempted by the Aphrodite’s (Bavaro/Connie Lingua) charms, queen Phaidra (Johanna Nutter) becomes sexually obsessed with her husband’s illegitimate son Hippolytos (Aaron Golish). She confesses her passion to her Nurse (Diana Fajrajsl), who complicates matters by telling Hippolytos of his step-mother’s passion and swearing him to secrecy. In panic and terror, Phaidra takes her own life and accuses Hippolytos of rape in a suicide note. When Theseus (Donovan Reiter) discovers his dead wife, he exiles his son and damns him to death. Theseus soon gets his wish, and all too early, as Artemis (Elisabeth Gill) reveals Hippolytos’ innocence.
Hippolytos boasts so many great actors that it’s difficult to know where to start. Fajrajsl charmed the audience and played both the comedic and the dramatic extremes of her character with equal care and believability. Nutter showcased the magnetic stage presence for which she is loved by so many, seducing the crowd as she told the tale—and suffered the pains—of her own seduction tale. Bavaro was a riot and a delight in the role of both host and actress, and one of Hippolytos’ great joys is checking back to Aphrodite’s reactions to the action centre-stage. Golish’s intense facial expressions and eloquent and beautiful diction manage both his character’s flippant, sarcastic side, as well as his chaste and honourable one, and played nicely in contrast to Reiter’s brash, yet vulnerable, and absolutely heartbreaking Theseus. 
The electronic music in Hippolytos enhances the theme of losing self-control in erotic or stimulating situations, and Wilson’s sung, rapped and spoken Chorus lines are unexpected and fresh. Hippolytos is so well-cast that even the Messenger (Lewis Innes-Miller) manages to stick in viewer’s minds as though he has sixty minutes of stage time. Innes-Miller’s delivery of the Messenger’s speech describing Hippolytos’ death is visceral and memorable. And after sitting nearly motionless on-stage during the entire duration of the show and straight through intermission, Gill brings the statue of Artemis which she embodies to life as a sorrowful goddess with a quiet rage in her (a little too quiet) voice. 
The only thing which would benefit Hippolytos is a more carefully-curated costume department. Although eclectic is the word of the hour, the costumes seem to belong to too many different styles to create an overall sense of aesthetic unity in the play.

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