Friday, April 13, 2012
IPHIGENIA 2.0 assaults the senses at Cleveland Public Theatre
In IPHEGENIA IN AULIST, which was written by Euripides, the classic ancient Greek writer of tragedy, Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek coalition is about to enter into a battle during the Trojan War. In order to appease the goddess Artemis, and encourage his troops to go into the battle in honor, he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia. Euripides uses tragic irony, a writing device in which the audience knows the tragic hero is making a mistake, even as the character is making it, to envelop the viewers in the action. We know he is making a mistake but are powerless to stop him.
In IPHIGENIA 2.0, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre in collaboration with Oberlin College, writer Charles Mee offers a reconsideration of the Euripides’ tale.
Mee, using free-wheeling lyric prose, asks many philosophical questions about honor, war, the forgotten lessons of history, and life. His device is to parallel the Greek wars and those of the modern middle east conflicts.
Though he doesn’t state it in the script, Mee might have been asking, when George Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the old white male neo-cons committed this country to the Iraq war, what were they personally willing to sacrifice? Did they offer to give the lives of their daughters for a cause they believed in? What were the personal consequences of their drive for confrontation? Were they really tragic heroes or just tragic?
On one level, the story concerns Agamemnon, who convinces his troops that the war they are embarking on is worth the sacrifice of many lives. The troops, in turn, ask their leader to give something up, something of personal value in exchange. Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia, his beloved daughter, to show his conviction. When his wife Clytemnestra finds out about the plan she becomes frantic. Iphigenia, upon discovering the plot, offers herself as a statement of purpose of a meaningful life.
The other side of tale offers some vague references about the Middle Eastern war. Unfortunately, Mee leaves the parallel somewhat vague. Ideas are hinted at, even lightly said, by not made totally clear. The audience really has to dig to make the stories analogous.
Mee claims he doesn’t write “political plays.” In my mind, that’s the problem. If he had drawn a clearer parallel between the decisions made by Agamemnon and those made by Bush/Cheney, or any other leaders who commanded conflict, but gave little beyond words as their sacrifice, the script would have been more meaningful.
The production, under the direction of Matthew Wright, is generally absorbing. The staging, which is done in a runway format, in which the audience is on both sides of the playing area, with the actors in between, provides involving visualizations. The visual ideas are well developed through good blocking. But, unfortunately due to the high ceiling and poor acoustics in the Gordon Square Theatre, lots of words get lost.
The hearing problem is made even worse because the actors tend to show strong emotions by screaming lines, often with poor diction. In addition, some of the cast, mainly the male soldiers, speak very rapidly in harsh muted voices, thus obliterating their words.
Tom Woodward does a nice job of developing the conflicted Agamemnon. Aaron Profumo makes for a physically right Achilles, Iphigenia’s betrothed. Marina Shay is fine as Iphigenia. Though her seduction scene of Achilles is convincing, Heather Anderson Boll, with distracting hair flopping over her face, is generally out of control as Clytemnestra, failing to texture her lines. She has one level of idea development--yelling.
Holly Handman-Lopez’s choreography of the fight and wedding scenes were well planned and executed. Inda Blatch-Gelb’s set, vertical banners and a floor covered with pictures and symbols, was visually appropriate. Richard Ingraham’s musical selections were excellent, but, due to the poor acoustics, maybe body microphones should have been considered.
Capsule judgement: IPHIGENIA 2.0 is a thought provoking, emotionally insightful piece of theatre that assaults the senses. It may be too abstract for some theatre-goers. Since I saw a preview performance I can only hope that the projection problems and some over-the-top acting will be reigned in as the run continues.