Like Sands in an Hourglass...
The Incest-tastic Phaedra Project
The Phaedra Project
Ghost Light Theatricals at Chamber Theater
Through Nov 19.
I'd bet that Seattleites have had more contact with Phaedra as a character in the psychedelic Lee Hazlewood–Nancy Sinatra pop song "Some Velvet Morning" than as King Theseus's conflicted wife. It's a shame, because Phaedra the play, here a combination of the Racine and Euripides versions, has everything that makes the Greeks memorable: suicide, incest, and evil political machinations. By the end, all the characters are either mad, dead, or wishing they were dead.
The Project part of this Phaedra is its chronology: The play starts at the end and unspools backward to the middle. After an intermission, it starts at the beginning and runs forward until we arrive at the middle, which is this version's end. The Phaedra Project takes place on a clock face, and the point—that tragedy is the inexorable sweep of time—is overstated, but the pleasure of watching a production willing to take risks on material that (wrongfully) seems outdated is unmistakable.
The shame is that Margaret Bicknell excels as Phaedra, but the part isn't as significant in this skewed timeline. Her death scene is first, robbing the performance of the dramatic weight that makes actresses covet lead roles in Greek tragedies. King Theseus is maligned even more by the chronological change: He enters screaming for vengeance, then calms down and sits out the second half. Edwin Scheibner can only imbue the part with the peevishness of a yuppie shouting at a barista for serving him a cold latte. Aaron Wagner is excellent as touched-by-a-stepmother Hippolytus, though some of his dramatic pauses should be shortened. Hippolytus, kind of a pervier Hamlet, talks about the unstoppable march of time with a quavering voice; he's sure that things aren't going to end well, and the audience shivers. We've seen how it ends. He's right.