Student production distorts time and morality

Theater is definitely not entertainment for the everyday person that enjoys a good story. It’s more for an audience that appreciates the art of acting and enjoys a live performance, in addition to a good story. Unlike most untrained screen actors, theater actors have a deep love for the stage where they are able to develop an emotional connection with the audience as the story progresses.

Curtain call · Applying skills learned over the past two and a half years, final-year MFA Acting students McKinley Belcher III (above) and Thomas Chavira II (below) perform in Orestes 2.0. - Nathaniel Gonzalez | Daily Trojan

Orestes 2.0, one of three plays organized by the USC School of Theatre’s Master in Fine Arts Acting Program for the spring semester, showcases live acting passionately.

The 11-member MFA cast did an excellent job portraying the various characters, bringing enthusiasm and joy to their performances.

McKinley Belcher III (Orestes) projected his voice very well and moved about the stage confidently, while Julia Davis (Electra) sets the story’s conflict in the second scene with a relaxed and confident presence. All 11 of these charismatic MFA actors really brought their respective characters to life.

From the opening scene, audience members immediately got the sense that this was going to be a different play. Nicole Maroon, playing a forensics expert, pointed a red laser at an audience member’s torso while describing the circumstances of a murder. This sort of actor to audience interaction added a unique touch that isn’t often found in other plays. It shows that these actors are truly in character, using someone from the audience as a prop.

Charles Mee’s Orestes 2.0 follows a soldier, Orestes, who recently returned from the war in Troy.  It layers political commentaries atop the tale of Orestes’ murder of his mother six days earlier at the encouragement of his sister, Electra. Both are about to be put on trial, yet Electra wants to save Orestes by helping him come to grips with what he did.  In a scene with his grandfather, Menelaus (Henry Martone), Orestes tried to justify the murder, yet had difficulty doing so.

“It was clear with Orestes that Charles Mee was thinking about the first Iraq War, Desert Storm,” said Andrew J. Robinson, director of the MFA Acting Program. “The reason he calls this play 2.0 is because, when we invaded Iraq [in ’03], that’s when he revised Orestes into the second version of it.”

If you don’t have past experience watching live theater productions, Orestes 2.0 may be a very difficult story to follow. Most storytelling viewers are accustomed to watching films with (usually) one active protagonist who struggles to achieve someone, something or both. In other words, the protagonist overcomes obstacles to reach his goal. It’s that struggle audience members connect with. Plays, especially one like Orestes 2.0, are a different form of expression.

It’s a non-traditional play that doesn’t have a clear three-act structure. In fact, one might even call it experimental. While it does have some semblance of a beginning, middle and end, it’s so intertwined with political commentaries and soliloquies on human nature that it requires very careful listening to follow. The MFA Program’s adaptation of Mee’s play has moments of didacticism, however, and such political commentaries take away from the story. It is worth mentioning, though, that MFA actor Anthony Bryce Graham did a worthy President Obama impersonation that received laughs from the Scene Dock Theatre audience.

Nonetheless, the acting was impressive and the sound design memorable. In one of two standout scenes, it appeared that the cast members were interacting under the blue hued moonlit shadow of trees. In another drama-filled scene, the intense sounds of helicopters filled the Scene Dock Theatre with its lights circling about, as Orestes prepared to throw a child off the building.

While Orestes 2.0 is a challenging story to follow, the USC community should consider viewing this play and supporting our USC MFA Theatre actors who have a passion for the art form. Orestes 2.0 debuted Saturday, Feb. 6 and is next scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. with four more shows scheduled.