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Kelley Curran is back to STC after playing Lady Percy in Henry IV, Part 1 and 2. Working again under the direction of Michael Kahn, she’s currently in rehearsals as Clytemnestra in The Oresteia, his final play as Artistic Director of STC.
How have rehearsals been going so far?
Rehearsals have gotten off to an exciting start. The company that has been brought together to bring this production to life—actors and creative team alike—are a pretty astounding group of artists and craftspeople across the board. And it’s a rare moment to be working on a play that is practically primordial in terms of theatre, and yet, being adapted anew by Ellen McLaughlin. Ellen is in the rehearsal room with us, making changes to the script based on our discoveries and investigations of the text each day, so we are, at once, working on a story that is both ancient and brand new, which is a very rare opportunity.
What’s it like working with Michael Kahn again, and being part of his final show as Artistic Director of STC?
It’s such a tremendous honor to be asked back to the Shakespeare Theatre Company as a part of Michael Kahn’s final production as Artistic Director. I worked here for the first time 5 years ago, playing Lady Percy in Henry IV, Part 1 and 2, and that experience was one of my favorites of my career. Despite having only known Michael for a relatively brief amount of time, I feel a sort of aesthetic kinship with his sensibilities as a director. We can understand each other without having to endlessly talk through moments in the rehearsal room, which I think can be death to a creative process! One of the greatest things I learned from him when I first worked with him on the Henrys, and a thing that I have carried with me ever since, is that the most interesting thing happening on any stage at any given moment is usually the thing that is the simplest and most honest. To be a part of the company at the culmination of Michael’s truly historic career at STC, and in the American theatre at large, is quite an overwhelming honor.
What went through your mind when you read The Oresteia script for the first time?
I fell hard for Ellen’s adaptation of The Oresteia the first time I read it. Ellen’s writing is as precise as a knife’s blade. Her use of language walks a sublime line between the poetic and the pedestrian, and to have the opportunity to interpret that as an actor is a deeply challenging and rewarding thing.
In Ancient Greece, women had little presence in society—yet Clytemnestra is such a powerful female figure. How are you approaching playing this iconic character?
I love a transgressive female character—women who find a way to subvert the very forces and systems that oppress them by acting outside of traditional and accepted norms. I think Clytemnestra reveals for many audiences, across time, the anxieties that societies have around powerful women who assert that power by transgressing accepted “female” behavior. I start from a place of tremendous admiration for that trailblazing aspect of her personality. Clytemnestra is frequently spoken of as the wife of King Agamemnon, but she was a queen before she married him, and ruled as queen for the 10 years he was off fighting the Trojan War, and the many years after that until her death. In our adaptation, she’s also brilliantly strategic and deeply persuasive.
Of course, she’s also a woman who commits two murders in the name of vengeance for the death of her child, Iphigenia, who was sacrificed to the gods by her husband…it’s not an uncomplicated situation…but, as an actor, it’s not my job to judge Clytemnestra. It’s my job to understand and specify the kind of grief, pain and consequently, rage, which would drive someone to that kind of violence. And I certainly can imagine that. I’m not a mother, but I have a little sister who’s severely disabled and is unable to advocate for herself. If someone stronger and more powerful than her ever harmed her, could I imagine myself wanting to harm that person in turn? You bet I could. I think it’s very much a part of our human instinct. The more rare and miraculous story is in choosing forgiveness over retribution after someone has caused you life-shattering harm. That’s what this play goes on to explore.
What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
I hope audiences take away questions that they go on to ask themselves and each other for days after they’ve seen this production. Questions about the nature of justice, of righteous vengeance, if there’s an alternative to retributive justice, if there’s a way to move forward as a society after experiencing trauma, how complicit are we in a society when our leaders have committed atrocities? And what’s the work that needs to be done?
The Oresteia begins April 30. Go behind-the-scenes in our four-part video series Staging an Epic.