The far future. After 25 years in Spain, Orestes (played by writer and co-director Arif Alfaraz) arrives as a psychoanalyst at a Greek asylum to treat his long-lost sister Electra’s (Marta Ramonet) ‘madness’ that he believes has been misdiagnosed. Electra sits on her father’s grave (presumably she’s allowed out of the asylum to visit) in nightclothes and boots.
With the maturation of certain ideas raised, Alfaraz could be onto a good play.
The entire story is bookended by the notion that the audience is at a reading given by Orestes of his book on psychoanalysis, after which the play is named. These sequences impede the play a lot; they are uninteresting and accompanied by schmaltzy music, sounding inappropriately like Disney narration. They also lead to a confusing and rather forced denouement.
The rest of the play follows along chiefly as its Greek source material does. Electra is obsessed with her dead father Agamemnon, killed by their mother Clytemnestra, and longs for revenge. Orestes is reluctant to help kill Clytemnestra. There are some new, puzzling additions to the plot – a momentary news report voiceover reveals a new fate for both Cassandra and Iphigenia – but they are never fully explained or explored, nor is the fact that the play is set in the future. The play needs a clearer purpose in reworking the original.
There is enough potential, however, that it's almost three stars. Alfaraz has his weaker passages, particularly in those sections at the book-reading, but both actors are generally strong. Alfaraz’s shakiness and twitchiness, as if constantly on the verge of tears (particularly when begging unseen officials to allow him to treat his sister’s supposed mental illness), is engaging. Ramonet is a powerful presence, brimming with hatred, stroking her father’s tomb with believable devotion, and becoming, at times, a figure of serene poise to contrast with her fury.
The writing also has moments of clarity and originality. Orestes wanted to be a hairdresser, did not live up to his parents’ ideals of masculinity, and had a frequently-mentioned bed-wetting problem. During his time in Spain, he was forced to participate in the bloody slaughter of bullfights until he was ‘broken’, a visceral, relevant and creative twist on the original story. And Electra has a brief monologue asking, if everyone who cares about you is gone, do you count as a person any more?
Visual touches to show a modern Electra are minimal but highly effective, like her playing games on her phone while sitting on the grave, or stapling paper chains around the cross. Use of sound is fervent with a great deal of echoing, but can drown the actors’ voices and cut off too abruptly.
Does I Am Orestes and I Am Electra Too add much to its source material? Not really. Creating an entirely new play out of Orestes and Electra requires more than setting the same story in the future without explanation. But with the maturation of certain ideas raised, Alfaraz could be onto a good play.