Suffering has galvanized the mythic Greek royal Klytmnestra. As seen in Dane Figueroa Edidi’s “Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem,” directed by Danielle A. Drakes for Theater Alliance, the title character reacts to her child’s violent death with pugnacious, dancelike movement. She cranes forward; her arms thresh. Her hands grasp the air as if trying to pull the slaughtered youngster to safety.
This kinetic evocation of grief epitomizes the writ-large theatricality of Edidi’s vigorous, humor-threaded solo show, which is billed as the first main-stage D.C. production to be written and performed by a trans theater artist of color. With song, expressionistic and ritualistic movement, poetic soliloquies and arch direct address, Edidi recasts Greek tragedy to emphasize the strength and agency of female characters.
Among these is Klytmnestra (more commonly spelled “Clytemnestra” — the plays under review use atypical spellings for some names), who kills her husband, Agamemnon, for having sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia. Other vivid figures in the play include a priestess; Klytmnestra’s macho, rapping son; and the knowing, sultry Helen of Troy, who asserts that she and her sister Klytmnestra are “kingmakers” whose husbands “are nothing more than what we have made.”
Strutting into view to disco music, Klytmnestra’s exultant daughter Chrysothemis (“Call me panther black”) is among the elements that weave the play’s feminist vision into a celebration of black heritage and identity.
Onstage drummer Autumn Angelettie adds adrenaline. The ancient-yet-modern throne-room set and the imposing red, white and black attire (both designed by Debra Kim Sivigny) also enhance “Klytmnestra,” which throws into high relief the talents of the expansively expressive Edidi.
With their insights on violence, gender relations and civics, the ancient Greeks are in particular fashion at the moment. The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “The Oresteia” is offering a different take on the saga of Agamemnon’s dysfunctional family. And now Taffety Punk Theatre Company has unveiled an uneven double bill of Greek texts translated by poet and scholar Anne Carson. The production aims to put the troupe’s signature edgy, genre-crossing stamp on texts that show strong women grappling with change and loss.
In the disappointing “The Fragments of Sappho,” directed by Marcus Kyd, modern-dance choreography by Katie C. Sopoci Drake, slushily executed by dancers in pink, muddies the luminous lines by poet Sappho. Thank goodness for Esther Williamson, who speaks the verse with the right mix of animation and cool clarity. Teresa Spencer also voices the poetry, which is underscored by moody music, performed live — Kyd on bass; Dan Crane on drums — on the nearly bare stage.
More successful is “Antigonick,” directed by Kelsey Mesa from Carson’s postmodern riff on Sophocles. Rendering the tale of Antigone, who tries to bury her brother Polyneikes in defiance of Thebes’ king, Kreon, Carson makes her characters aware of their own cultural echoes over the years: Speakers allude to the likes of intellectual-history boldface names Lacan and Hegel.
The script is now funny, now arrestingly lyrical. But Lilian Oben over-telegraphs the ardor of Antigone, and some other performances are ho-hum. Kelly King’s choreography — at one point, Thebes’ citizens break out in a rave — doesn’t add much. (Jen Gillette designed the fanciful modern dress.)
However, Louis E. Davis is very diverting as a flummoxed guard. And Crane is hilarious as Kreon, with crisp diction and rigid physicality capturing the character’s blinkered smugness. At one point, after Kreon has reeled off a list of nouns and verbs that express his ethos, the chorus quibbles that the possessive pronoun “mine” isn’t a noun.
“It is if you capitalize it,” the tyrant retorts.
Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem, written and choreographed by Dane Figueroa Edidi. Directed by Danielle A. Drakes; lighting design, Niomi Collard; sound, Kenny Neal. 90 minutes. $30-$40. Through June 16 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. 202-241-2539 or theateralliance.com.
The Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. Directed by Marcus Kyd. Antigonick, translated by Carson from Sophocles. Directed by Kelsey Mesa. Light design, Chris Curtis; sound, Kyd; set and prop manifestation, Amy Kellett and Donna Reinhold; original “Sappho” music by Dan Crane, Kyd and Mesa. With Danny Puente Cackley, Rachel Felstein, Amanda Blythe, Safi Harriott, Katie Murphy and Erin White. 100 minutes. $15. Through June 8 at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. taffetypunk.com.