Wed Aug 29 2007
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
A bearded Greek man sits upstage, brushing white paint onto brown butcher paper, at the start of Signature Theatre Company’s exceptional Iphigenia 2.0. But butchery is hardly whitewashed in Charles Mee’s dynamic, wide-rangingly intelligent examination of honor and sacrifice in military culture. The play’s own Greek background is Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, which depicts the death of a young princess at the hands of her father, Agamemnon, en route to wage battle at Troy. But Mee and director Tina Landau do not merely dress the tragedy in the clothes of today; they radically retailor the original text, grafting it with modern limbs and infusing it with new types of blood.
Mee’s limber, eloquent writing steers the play into radical zigzags of tone, expertly navigated in Landau’s fleet production. The morally tortured Agamemnon, embodied by Tom Nelis as a rueful white-shoe general, analyzes the collective defensiveness that leads an empire into expansion (“striking out at the phantasms of its own dreams”); his stony brother, Menelaus (Rocco Sisto), shares gruesome tales of violence; his formidable wife, Clytemnestra—the astonishing Kate Mulgrew, a blend of Hamptons power wife, dragon and armored tank—rages and keens. But there is also festive Greek music, and spring break–style partying, and multiple musical numbers performed by half-naked, recruitment-poster-ready soldiers, whose sexy truculence makes them marketing tools for aggression. (In a lesser show, such numbers might be merely tongue-in-cheek; here, they all have something to say.) By the time Iphigenia—the winsome and convincing Louisa Krause—comes to her inevitable end, Iphigenia 2.0 has given us a fresh and disturbing vision of war and what it spoils.