According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Iphigenia at Aulis

A Greek general offers up his daughter as a sacrifice to appease a goddess and win her favor for his army in Don Taylor's translation of the classic play by Euripides. Although this production has a fun, indie pop chorus, a fantastic lead and innovative lighting design and sound effects, the acoustics at the Milagro Theater amplify all sounds within the production and out, the depictions of some of the famed figures are peculiar, the costumes are mismatched, and the blocking is too broad, making Highwire Theatre's effort a valiant, but tepid one.
(l to r) David Lee - Agamemnon, Julia Davis - Iphigenia, Ninon Rogers - Clytemnestra - photo by Yael Gamson

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

While the U.S. Marine Corps code is "unit, corps, God, country," the Greek army's code during the time of Euripides would have been "gods, country, pleasure," and maybe an honorary nod to "family." But in Iphigenia at Aulis, Agamemnon (David Ian Lee), the commander-in-chief of the Greek troops, grapples with his priorities when his own flesh and blood must be sacrificed.

When Agamemnon's army incurs the wrath of Artemis, warrior goddess of the wild and of the hunt (according to Homer, Artemis wanted to punish Agamemnon after he killed a sacred deer in a sacred grove and boasted that he was a better hunter), he knows that he must quickly come up with something to pacify her, as she has suspended the winds and made it impossible for the ships to set sail to Troy. To preserve their honor and reclaim Helen, Agamemnon's brother Menelaus' (Thomas Poarch) adulterous wife, it is imperative that a blood sacrifice be offered to Artemis. Because Agamemnon is at fault for the offense, he decides to offer the blood of his daughter, Iphigenia (Julia Davis), to calm Artemis down.

Agamemnon lures Iphigenia to Aulis with the promise of a wedding to Achilles (Eli James), the half-mortal hero. But, before she arrives with her mother and his wife, Clytemnestra (Ninon Rogers), he deliberates with Menelaus and his conscience, changing his mind several times over the fate of his doting daughter. When Clytemnestra learns of her husband's military strategy by her faithful slave the Old Man (the wonderful David Douglas), she devises a plan of her own with Achilles' assistance, vowing to keep her daughter alive at all costs.

The action of Iphigenia at Aulis is so diffuse onstage that it's difficult to absorb each actor's commitment to their roles in the Milagro Theater's broad space. The great acoustics of the Milagro allow for booming tones and a cadence that communicates the gravity of a situation that (with the exception of Lee) the actors' performances don't convey. As Agamemnon, Lee embodies a father stuck between a rock and a hard place, and does so with the spectrum of emotions that one would associate with such a predicament. Anyone that would like to dismiss Agamemnon's decision as a no-brainer in favor of his offspring would recognize his dilemma when measured against the hubris of the Greeks and the lines of discord on Lee's face. He is diminished in stature and power, however, by the much taller Rogers as his wife.

Insufficient lighting by Kj Hardy in the lethargic opening scene suggests night, but does nothing to brighten the characters faces or the audience's alertness. Hardy does, however, redeem himself with long, flashing fluorescent light bulbs that accompany the stomping of the soldiers during climactic scenes, even if their functions are sometimes delayed. The mixture of classic and modern costumes by David Withrow is peculiar, making us wonder if the production ran out of money after Agamemnon and Clytemnestra were adorned in lavish period clothing.

The production takes great liberties with the portrayals of some of the most famous figures, particularly with Achilles. Clad in a white leisure suit and a rope of bullets, James looks more like a refuge from Miami Vice, with the wile and sleaze to match. James' Achilles is more satirical than realistic, boasting none of the brawn and the grace that the widely accepted version of Achilles usually possesses. Achilles never looked so impotent. The Sailor (Jason Griffith) and Messenger (Tommy Dickie) are not the armor-clad warriors that one would expect, but they do remind us, with their posture and calculated steps directed by Jill Landaker, that they are upon a military vessel. Davis seems to be miscast as Iphigenia in the beginning, but does muster a smidgen of courage and strength in the end to earn the name that means "born to strength."

Highwire Theatre's production of Iphigenia at Aulis is a courageous one, but it has many kinks. Agamemnon's flippant manner and Clytemnestra's disbelief in Iphigenia's fate at the end of the play does not leave much of an opening for Euripides' follow-up play, Iphigenia in Tauris. Although the music by Kendall Jane Meade is melodious and sung well by Sarah Brill, Michelle O'Connor and Gillian Visco, their inclusion turns the Greek tragedy into a folk jamboree. Parallels can be drawn to the role of women in this military-heavy world to the women waiting for their sons and fathers to return from Iraq, but they're a stretch. The translation by Don Taylor is accessible to even the newly-initiated to Euripides, but this production is an example of an interpretation gone too modern and too awry.

Through December 16th. Tickets: $18 212-868-4444.
Milagro Theater at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center
107 Suffolk Street(between Delancey and Rivington Streets)

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