By LORRAINE WARDLE
Four years ago, Robert Dennick Joki took a chance to fulfill his dreams. With a minimal cast, an empty performance space and simple black costumes, Joki began the Rust Belt Theater Company.
In May 2010, the Rust Belt Theater Company opened with the Greek tragedy “Electra” followed by the tragedies “Medea” and “Antigone.”
Since then, Joki’s Rust Belt Theater Company has established itself as a staple of Youngstown community theater, producing original works by local artists. Loyal fans of Joki’s work flock to the Calvin Center to see what new and innovative work he has created.
To celebrate the beginning of its fifth season, the Rust Belt Theater Company has chosen a revival of its first play, “Electra.”
“Electra” is based on an ancient Greek myth. Each of the ancient Greek playwrights, Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, has written versions of the story. For his adaptation, Joki studied these plays and created his own.
Joki’s “Electra” stays true to the original story while giving it a modern feel. The language of his script is modern enough to make it clear and easy to understand but also formal, which gives it the feeling of taking place in an ancient time.
As with all Greek tragedies, “Electra” is full of murder, intrigue, treachery and enough family drama to make the Kardashians and all the “Real Housewives” look tame.
Simply put, Electra is a story of revenge. But revenge is never simple.
The play begins with Electra grieving her father’s death. He was Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, who defeated the Trojans in the Trojan War. Unfortunately, when he returned home, he was murdered. Electra is obsessed with avenging her father’s death, but is trapped by her family and her status as a woman.
Terri MacSkimming plays Electra with a compelling, heart-wrenching performance. She grieves almost uncontrollably; her entire body evokes her emotions. She is a visibly tortured soul.
Electra’s sister, Chrysothemis, is played by Bernadette Lim with vulnerability and fragility as she struggles to decide where her loyalties lie. Their brother, Orestes, is played with dignity and poise by Kage Coven.
Molly Galano, gives a unnerving performance as Electra’s villainous mother, Clytemnestra. She is cold and calculating, and just when the audience feels sympathy for her, she becomes even more devious.
Mary M. James and Marisa Zamary play Paedagogus and Coryphaeus, respectively, two women who are caretakers and advisers to Electra and Orestes. James and Zamary gave polished performances with dignified delivery and regal demeanor.
David Cirelli plays a frightening Aegisthus, stepfather to Electra, while Rachel Clifford’s Iphigenia is calm and confident, and Leah Trickett’s Iphianessa is meek and quiet.
The entire cast, except MacSkimming, also makes up the Greek chorus. When they are not delivering lines as their character, they blend with the others to create a unified chorus that both narrates and interacts with Electra as a sort of conscience.
Like his script, Joki’s costume design is both modern and classic. Joki also uses masks to distinguish characters. When the actor’s mask is covering the face, he or she is part of the chorus. When the character steps out from the chorus, the mask then becomes a headpiece that reflects the character.
Electra, the character, is a force to be reckoned with. The Rust Belt Theater Company has proved that it is, too.
“Electra” continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Rust Belt Theater Company in the Calvin Center at 755 Mahoning Avenue in Youngstown. For reservations, call or text 330-507-2358.