Classical theater is tough on many levels. It's tough on actors, who have to allude and emote using words that are often much more heady and complicated than they're used to; and it's tough on audiences, who need to bone up on their mythology and history and get in the right frame of mind to experience a piece of theater that is often more of a museum piece. Also, it's tough on critics, who don't want to seem ignorant of its worth or to make unfair comparisons to modern works, but who also want to see a classical piece in the context of a current season, and to weigh a production's merits against everything else a theater-goer might be able to see.
A.C.T.'s latest production, which is a world premiere of a new translation of Racine's 17th Century tragedy Phèdre and a co-production with Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, is a rigorous, well-acted, and appropriately difficult piece of theater which should please most hard-core classicists out there what few of you there are. The story follows a tragic moment in the life of the tortured and self-destructive Phèdre (or Phaedra), daughter of Minos, wife of Theseus, and granddaughter of gods. For lovers of theater in general, this is a chance to see a well constructed tragedy penned in French and rarely performed, with a lead actress (Seana McKenna) who could wrestle with the best Gertrudes, Lady Macbeths, and Medeas of any era.