Critics perhaps bandy around the word cliché too often, as if readers and artists should automatically discern the problems inherent in drawing from a stock of heavily used images. But ideally, the term helps explain the shortcomings of works that rely so heavily on routine symbols that they ignore the impact those representations have on an audience.
Svich’s phantasmagoric 2004 retelling of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis as Iphigenia’s drug-riddled trip to a rave is one such work. Adams’s production has its strengths. Christine Lin makes a compelling Iphigenia; she compensates for the script’s weak language with bodily storytelling (buxom and seductive in one scene; in the next, battered and caved-in). Steph Charaska’s scenic design has a dynamic forced-perspective feel.
But Adams and Svich both draw immensely on images that have cycled through our cultural imaginations, without acknowledging the effects this recycling has had. Early in her outing, Iphigenia encounters three drag queens in kooky primary-color outfits. Circa 1976, the impact might have been disturbing; now, we think of similar images in a Gaga video and shrug. Later, Iphigenia sees her personal story refracted through the mass media via actors who appear as news anchors on giant onstage screens. It’s a disturbing, dystopian vision—or it was until it appeared in Network, Minority Report and (satirically) in Up. This trope is no longer just tired, it’s a cultural punch line. Images like these pepper Iphigenia. Along with a rather comically motley crew of actors, they render this self-serious piece giggle-inducing, at best.