Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Phaedra Backwards at The McCarter Theatre

Three distinguished ladies of the theater have combined their considerable talents to present the world premiere of the remarkable, highly creative, modern adaptation of the Phaedra myth... Phaedra Backwards at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton.

First, the author, one of Ireland’s premiere contemporary playwrights is
Marina Carr. Ms. Carr, in an all too rare situation, was commissioned by the McCarter to adapt the Greek myth to the stage. The unique result is a fascinating non-linear telling of the tragic, yet funny story. It starts, not unlike the film noir detective movies of the 1940's, with the end first....then journeys to the beginning, (but with a sort of ending) all via a combination of dialogue and visual techniques (still and live action big screen projection)...thus the title Phaedra Backwards.

The second is the director....the multi-award winning Director and Playwright Emily Mann, who is in her 22nd season as Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre.  Director Emily Mann has stunningly staged the production, and, of course, had the vision to provide Marina Carr with the opportunity to experiment with form, both aural and visual that has produced this exhilarating tale of multi-generational lust.

The third, is the actress
Stephanie Roth Haberle who is brilliant as Phaedra. She projects a free-spirit of considerable beauty, yet wild, loving, and even funny...all with great sensuality and in the end... tragic

The plot ? When it comes to dysfunctional families this one certainly makes any one's top ten list.  But what do you expect when grandma, Pasiphae (
Angel Desai) has fallen in lust with a white bull and borne him a son, Phaedra's half-brother, the Minotaur (Julio Monge), who gets along beautifully with his two (normal) sisters, Phaedra and Ariadne (Mariann Mayberry). All is well until grandpa, Minos (Sean Haberle)  arrives home from years of travel. His reaction to his wife's infidelity with a bull is beyond dark and violent. He, with daughter Ariadne's help, kills the Minotaur. Skip forward to an adult Phaedra who has married her late sister's husband, Theseus (Randall Newsome) who lusts after a constant stream of women, in turn she lusts after her step-son (and nephew) Hippolytus (Jake Silbermann)..who lusts after her. Meantime, Hippolytus's girlfriend, Aricia (Julienne Hanzelka Kim) lusts after him, but can not compete, and will not compete with his stepmother Phaedra. Follow? 

One of the most remarkable and memorable scenes is when 
Christopher Coucill as the Inventor produces a full sized steel frame version of a cow for Phaedra's mother Pasiphae (Angel Desai) to enter in preparation for her white bull mating (you read it correctly). Ms. Desai, for the sake of art, bares her backside (you read that correctly too). Comic touches are provided nicely by Susan Blommaert as Nanny, the housekeeper. She was nanny to Phaedra and her siblings when they were children. and stays to be housekeeper providing care for Phaedra's daughter (Elsa Rodriguez).

In the scenes of Phaedra's childhood are
Hope Springer as Phaedra, Alexandra Erickson as Adriadne and Noah Hinsdale as the Minotaur.

The design team includes Rachel Hauck (set design), Anita Yavich (costume design), Jeff Croiter (lighting design), Mark Bennett (original music and sound design), Peter Nigrini (projection design), and Peter Pucci (movement director). The production stage manager is Cheryl Mintz. Stage manager is Alison Cote.

The play is 90 minutes long and is presented without an intermission and contains adult themes and language.

Phaedra Backwards is a very powerful, creative, imaginative modern retelling of the Greek myth delivered by an outstanding cast.  This is an important play, that if you appreciate serious drama, I urge you to see. It may be worth the price of admission just to see Stephanie Roth Haberle's  performance. I leave you with Emily Mann's comment: “As a director, I lie awake at night dreaming about this play and the visual world it evokes. I am thrilled by the immense power of the piece and excited to introduce our audiences to such innovative work.” 

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio   October 21, 2011

Tickets for Phaedra Backwards start as low as $20 and can be purchased online at, by phone at (609) 258-2787, or in person at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. Performances are Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

McCarter is committed to making live theater available and affordable to all members of the community. Public Rush makes unsold tickets available for half-price on the day of selected performances, and is not available in all seating locations. 

McCarter Theatre will present Marina Carr’s Phaedra Backwards  through November 6, 2011. 

Strongly Recommended: A free 20 minute pre-show talk led by a member of McCarter’s artistic staff, will take place 45 minutes before each and every performance of Phaedra Backwards in the West Lobby of the Matthews Theatre. This is an excellent sneak peek of things to watch for as you experience the play, how the play was developed and intriguing tidbits about the production process....all designed to contribute to your enjoyment (and understanding) of Phaedra Backwards.

McCarter Theatre Center is easily accessible by car via US Route 1, Interstate 95/295, and NJ Route 206. Or take the train to McCarter:  New Jersey Transit serves Princeton Junction via the Northeast Corridor Line. Then it’s a ride of four minutes on New Jersey Transit’s “Dinky” train to Princeton Station–McCarter is directly across the street at 91 University Place.

More about Marina Car
r: McCarter Theatre has been privileged to be the American artist home of Marina Carr, one of Ireland’s premiere contemporary playwrights.  Born in 1964, Marina was brought up in County Offaly and graduated from Dublin’s University College in 1987. Plays for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin include: 16 Possible Glimpses, Marble, Ullaloo, The Mai, Portia Coughlan, By the Bog of Cats, Ariel, andMeat and Salt. Other plays include On Raftery's Hill (Druid/Royal Court), Low in the Dark (Project Arts Centre), Woman and Scarecrow (Royal Court), The Cordelia Dream (Royal Shakespeare Company), and The Giant Blue Hand (The Ark). Awards: The Macaulay Fellowship and the E.M. Forster Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was the 1932 fellow at Princeton for 2008. She currently teaches playwriting at Trinity College where she is an honorary professor and lives in Kerry with her husband and four children.

To learn more about this production, visit

Stephanie Roth Haberle and Julio Monge

Stephanie Roth Haberle, Angel Desai and Sean Haberle
Photos by  T. Charles Erickson

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