Thursday, September 27, 2007

PLAY: "Iphigenia 2.0"

Photo/Carol Rosegg

War, like life, is a matter of distance. Charles Mee's politically charged adaptation of the classic Euripedes play Iphigenia in Aulis, now modishly titled 2.0, succeeds because it removes that distance: no longer Troy, but Iraq. The time is now, so the mistakes of the past are now the mistakes of the present, and the sorrow of a greater leader is now the sorrow of his audience.

Much as angry Democrats demand (unjustly) that Republicans send their own children to war before they recklessly commit to bloodshed, so too does Agamemnon's (Tom Nelis) army demand a sacrifice, a human ante in the pot: Iphigenia (Louisa Krause), his beloved daughter. In a fit of weakness, he draws her and her mother, Clytemnestra (Kate Mulgrew), to the port of Aulis, saying that he will marry her to her beloved Achilles (Seth Numrich), but by the time he recants, it is too late: the imposing chorus of soldiers (J.D. Goldblatt, Will Fowler, Jimonn Cole, and Jesse Hooker), led by the stolid Menelaus (Rocco Sisto), will not let them leave.
Though the family resists, it is in the passive way America "protests" the war, and their feeble pleas are always revoked by the aggressive athleticism of the soldiers, who do what they say.

Tina Landau's direction makes use of the wide Signature stage, a space stripped to damaged concrete walls, with scarred colors and maps littering one wall, and battleships moored (synecdochial masts cast menacing shadows against a blue curtain) against the other. Everything about her style is crisp, from the intentional flourish of color when Iphigenia first enters with her bridesmaids (Emily Kinney and Chasten Harmon) to the abrupt-as-lightning light cues that send the actors scrambling as if under fire. These choices heighten the energy and keep the mood focussed, even when Mee's collaged script meanders. To this end, Landau is able to use Mee's weaker sections as subtext, or to present them as wistful, alienating lists. The erratic sections also allow for the inventively emphatic dances, from a Greek folk remix to a hip-hop military exercise.

However, having just seen Ivo Van Hove's The Misanthrope makes the lackluster moments in Iphigenia 2.0 stand out: for all that it's a good parallel, one that yields a strong polemic, there is very little connection between the performers and the audience. The menacing shifts do more to provoke a mood of helplessness--which fits our modern day--than to explain how the soldiers feel: if anything, they're silent supermen who refuse to let their armor down. The play is strong--athletically directed, with a healthy, relevant script, and hearty performances--but if you look beyond the razzle dazzle of the show, it has only one climactic usage of that strength.

To its credit, that ending is pretty powerful, and the anguished uncelebration of the wedding cum funeral fulminates to a point where Agamemnon's actual grief cannot be distinguished from the raucous noise. However, the work being done--particularly by the soldiers--is more likely to dazzle than to impress: the lack of steadiness in the script and direction causes the few emotional anchors (Krause and Nelis) to be lost in the frothy direction. Instead of focus, we are awash in feelings, and the result--which will be exhaustingly rewarding to some--isn't as strong as the political spine.

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