Last Friday, after a long day’s work, I stumbled into my apartment building at 190 Jefferson Street only to find the Greek tragedy “Electra” being performed on my back porch.
Our little backyard was packed with a few dozen people. Word of the odd production must’ve reached everyone in Bushwick but me.
I texted my next-door neighbor, William Gaffney, and asked him something along the lines of, “Have you noticed the play going on in our backyard?”
Not only had he noticed it, but as a friend of the Marymount Manhattan College students who were performing, he was the one who organized it.When I asked him if out landlord knew about it, he said, “Absolutely not.”
“Stick around,” Billy said. “Things are about to get weird.”
Stick around I did (if only to stick it to my landlord) and yes, things did get weird — for three nights in a row.
I have to confess, I still have no clue what the play — adapted by Adrienne Kennedy and directed by Ariel Kline, a senior majoring in philosophy — was all about. The original “Electra” is a convoluted tale about Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter, and his wife and her lover trying to murder him in revenge. The version that was staged at what’s now being dubbed “Billy’s Backyard” wasn’t exactly easy to follow (Sarah Cline, who played Electra, recited many of her lines in Greek), but it sure was wild — with melodramatic screaming, singing, and cast members in white robes that ended up doused in fake blood.
The low-budget, off-kilter production was violent, sexual and sensual: in short, as punk rock as Greek tragedy gets, with an after-party to match (gotta love highbrow theater that devolves into shotgunning Buds as a DJ spins). People were ringing my doorbell until the early hours of the morning. (The price of admission was a so-called “offering”: booze, snacks, and you can imagine what else.)
A week before the production, Kline and the rest of the “Electra” team had given a heads up to everyone on the block, but there were some hitches. Our next-door neighbors were throwing a birthday party for their son in their backyard, disrupting the flow of the play. My next-door neighbors don’t speak much English, so Kline had some trouble conveying what they were trying to do — but eventually an understanding between the two parties came to pass. “Your next-door neighbors ended up watching the show both Saturday and Sunday night,” Kline told me.
“I definitely want to do more stuff like this,” said Kline. “I would love to do my own versions of some verse stuff, some Calderone; I mean, why not?”