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CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
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Release: Feb. 4, 2000

'Orestes 2.0' upgrades Greek classic into computer age Feb. 17-27 at UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University Theatres Mainstage will present Obie Award-winning playwright Charles Mee's "Orestes 2.0," a play that upgrades a Greek classic into the computer age Feb. 17-27 in the David Thayer Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 17-19 and 23-26, and at 3 p.m. Feb. 20, 26 and 27.

"Orestes 2.0" is both based on the tragedy by Euripides and assembled as a theatrical collage from 20th-century texts and statements ranging from William Burroughs to John Wayne Gacy to Soap Opera Digest.

Calling "Orestes 2.0" "engaging theater as relevant as it is moving" and "fringe theater at its best," the critic of the Seattle Times wrote, "Don't expect a well-ordered plot. Like any nightmare, moments jump with apparent randomness to other moments. Yet underneath lies the myth of Orestes, who killed his mother in revenge for the murder of his father."

"Orestes," which dates from 408 B.C., follows up on the bloody deeds of Euripides' "Electra," in which Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus murder Agamemnon, and her children Orestes and Electra murder her. As the play opens, Orestes is tormented by the Furies, and both he and Electra expect to be condemned to death. In a scheme to avert this fate, they commit another murder, take a hostage and make threats, but just when matters seem completely out of control, the god Apollo improbably appears -- deus ex machina -- to set everything right.

Mee's play suggests the question, "Will a god descend again from Mt. Olympus, when all seems lost, to save us from our murderous failures?"

Mee, who is both a playwright and a respected historian, has written "My own work begins with the belief that human beings are, as Aristotle said, social creatures -- that we are the product not just of psychology, but also of history and of culture, that we often express our histories and cultures in ways even we are not conscious of, that the culture speaks through us, grabs us and throws us to the ground, cries out, silences us. So I . . . bring into the frame of the plays material from history, philosophy, insanity, inattention, distractedness, judicial theory, sudden violent passion, lyricism, the National Inquirer, nostalgia, longing, aspiration, literary criticism, anguish, confusion, inability."

"Psychological realism is just too pokey for people in the 20th century … I like plays that are not too neat, too finished, to presentable. My plays are broken, jagged, filled with sharp edges, filled with things that take sudden turns, careen into each other, smash up, veer off in sickening turns. That feels good to me. It feels like my life. It feels like the world."

Mee has taken some of his theatrical inspiration from visual artist Max Ernst, who created collages of newspaper, catalogues and other sources of information. "He took the material of the real world and then, putting it together as a collaged work of art, rendered the real world as an hallucination," Mee explains.

Mee's plays have been performed at major theatrical venues including the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, the Public Theater in New York and the American Repertory Theatre. His "Vienna: Lusthaus" won the Obie Award for Best Play in 1986.

His other works include "The Investigation of Murder in El Salvador," "The War to End War," "The Trojan Women, a Love Story" and "Time to Burn."

Theater critic Bonnie Marranca, a former faculty member in the UI department of theatre arts, has written, "The great strength in Mee's work lies in his poetic language, the precision of his imagery, and his facility in capturing the everyday construction of reality in the easy cliches of consumerist mentality…. If his plays are 'history plays,' it is in the sense of his attempt to rewrite Western history as a critique of its mythologizing."

The artistic team for "Orestes 2.0" is director Mary Ellen O'Hara, set designer Carolyn Barrientes, costume designer Chris Cook, lighting designer Bryon Winn, dramaturg and assistant director Tom Gibbons.

Tickets to "Orestes 2.0" are $15 ($7 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For UI arts news and information, and arts calendar updates, visit the ArtsIowa website, www.uiowa.edu/~uiowacr

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Orestes is pronounced oh-RESS-teez. Euripides is pronounced eu-RIPP-id-eez)