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Ancient tragedies, modern politics in 'The Oresteia'

Giving Greek tragedy a modern spin is the Virtual Repertory Theatre Collective, which will present the trilogy "The Oresteia" this weekend via Zoom.

The Virtual Repertory Theatre Collective was founded last December offering shows presented online including "Anna Christie," "The Great Gatsby" and "The Importance of Being Earnest."

Virtual Repertory Theatre Collective features a rotating bicoastal cast including, for this production, Bakersfield actors Lindsay Pearson and Jason Dollar.

This will be the sixth VRTC production for Pearson, who came on board after founding artistic director Kari Kitts Rothstein, who was in Bakersfield Community Theatre's virtual "It's a Wonderful Life" last winter, connected with her through mutual friends.

"I am used to being in multiple in-person stage productions a year, and VRTC gave me the opportunity to perform safely during the pandemic," Pearson wrote in an email.

This version of "The Oresteia" preserves the intricate language of Aeschylus' original tragedy but is streamlined, thanks to co-director Mitch Macdonald into a "more easily-digestible format for modern audiences," Pearson said.

"'The Oresteia' even in its original form may be described as a political piece, and VRTC has taken that a step further by modeling each character off a modern political figure," she wrote. "We each got to choose our own politician to inspire our costumes and mannerisms as well as the character’s ideology and place in the story."

Pearson plays two roles — Agamemnon and Orestes, a father and son who, if you know the story, do not overlap in scenes. The actress said she modeled her characters after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while others in the cast took a cue from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, among others.

After Agamemnon's death (classics spoiler!), it is Orestes' quest for revenge against his mother, Clytemnestra (Rachel Rhodes) that sets the later acts in motion. 

Pearson wrote, "Now a young man, Orestes must grapple with himself and his doubts after being given an ultimatum by the god Apollo: exact vengeance on your mother for the death of Agamemnon, or risk your own death."

Although it is a virtual production, viewers will still be asked to engage to decide the fate of Orestes, who is on trial for murder.

"In a traditional production, cast members in a jury vote to acquit Orestes," Pearson wrote. "However, because of the interactions allowed by virtual theatre, the audience will be able to vote whether or not Orestes should be acquitted.

"Based on how the audience votes, Orestes will either be acquitted or found guilty, for which an alternate ending to the original play was written."

Regardless of how they vote, Pearson said she hopes audiences come to realize that people are fundamentally human and flawed no matter what time period we live in.

"We are not so different today from the ancient Greeks who lived thousands of years ago, and our civilization could decline as theirs did if we are not careful to preserve it."

She also would like viewers to appreciate the unique possibilities of virtual performances. She encourages people to check in with VRTC on Facebook (facebook.com/virtualrepertorytheatrecollective) for its next slate of shows, which will be announced at its winter showcase on Dec. 18.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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