Iphigenia in Aulis

  • Our critic's rating:
    September 1, 2015
    Review by:
    Raphael Badagliacca

    Review by Raphael Badagliacca
    18 September 2015

    So this is how it begins. Events are woven into the history of a family and reverberate through time. Iphigenia in Aulis is one of the most infamous stories, retold with supreme dramatic skill in a darkened room on a corner of 13th Street in New York City some 2500 years later. And this is the highest of compliments: it is received by its listeners not as reverent homage to any past, but as shocking news, only as old as the last hour.

    Ann Washburn calls her work a “transadaptation” because she does not read ancient Greek and has depended on the translations of others, but beautifully states that while the language has passed through the hands of many “the mind which shines through it, in all of its terrible and heartbreaking lucidity, is Euripides.” The proof that she has succeeded is that the language never flags, keeps our attention through the longest speeches, and above all, moves us.

    The actors do their parts to give vibrant life to this reality. Their performances are multi-dimensional; each plays more than one role. I would use a word like “morph” but that implies observing some transitional change, while what they present us with, in turn, are distinct, separate characters.

    First, we are addressed by Rob Campbell as Agamemnon tasked with a terrible choice. The winds are not favorable to the Greek fleet of a thousand ships poised to journey to Troy. The goddess Artemis has been offended and the seer Calchas has determined that only the sacrifice of Iphigenia, Agamemnon’s daughter, will appease the goddess.

    Reluctantly receptive at the outset, Agamemnon has had a change of heart and tries to reverse his decision. He is confronted by his brother Menelaus, whose wayward wife Helen’s actions are the trigger for the devastating events to come and continue. Amber Gray plays Menelaus, suited in armor, and she later plays Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, in a flowing robe. Rob Campbell also plays Achilles. Agamemnon has tricked his wife into bringing Iphigenia to the distant Greek camp with the false promise of marriage to Achilles.

    So what we have is an inspiring display of acting and character. Gender becomes irrelevant, as it is for the ever-present chorus, but more about that in a moment. Amber Gray skillfully acts out her conflict, the heart of drama, first as Menelaus with Agamemnon, then as Clytemnestra both with Agamemnon and Achilles. Rob Campbell is on the receiving end of these pleas as Agamemnon and Achilles; his impressive transformation is accomplished through a change of armor and attitude, and altered speech patterns.

    Clytemnestra: “What prayers, tell me, do you intend to utter/When you sacrifice your daughter to the Goddess;/What blessing will you ask, as you slit her sweet throat?”

    Iphigenia (Kristen Sieh), whom we have already seen as an old man and a herald, moves us as Agamemnon’s oldest child: “…don’t tear me from/the day, it is so sweet, to see the light they say/the things beneath the earth are hard to look upon” and “I woke up this morning to a rosy sky/I thought it was a dawn/and now I find it’s sunset”

    Throughout, the chorus is meant to be as strange to us as they are to the Greeks: androgynous, colorful, exotic, heavily made-up, creatures of song and dance, accompanied by drumbeats and the thump of a bass cello. Curiously, they simultaneously react to and advance the plot, externalizing emotion and reminding us of how deeply the Greeks understood theater.

    The action tries in every way to veer towards the best of outcomes, but the playwright and we know the folly of war, and the baby Orestes stands alone on the edge of the stage, presaging the fate of things to come.

    (Raphael Badagliacca)

    "A spectacularly made-over Greek chorus is the chief asset of this generally less confident version of Euripides’ 'Iphigenia in Aulis'."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "'Iphigenia in Aulis' reminds us that war brings collateral damage. The message hits home, even in a production as clumsy as the Classic Stage Company’s."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "The biggest puzzlement behind this production’s disjointed, incoherent tone... is that it was put together by two smart cookies."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Rachel Chavkin's busy production at Classic Stage is full of good components, yet so jumbled together, they jostle one another into a kind of stillness."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Time Out