Iphigenia in Aulis
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Iphigenia in Aulis: Theater review by Helen Shaw
A wind blows through Anne Washburn's new version of Iphigenia in Aulis—sometimes it's a breeze, little gusts of modern comedy making tonal eddies in the tragedy; other times her lyric power masses itself behind Euripides' text and becomes a nearly frightening gale. But unfortunately, if appropriately for a play about becalmed ships, other winds are blowing, too: 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.
Euripides' plot is ruthlessly efficient. To get fair winds for Troy, Agamemnon must sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia; then everyone yells about it until the girl herself turns “patriot” and goes joyfully to martyrdom. “A country without honor is not free!” she shouts, chilling the bones of any contemporary listener. Three actors perform the piece's seven characters, so Rob Campbell is both vacillating Agamemnon and hilarious dude-bro Achilles; Amber Gray is an overemphatic Menelaus and furious Clytemnestra; and Kristen Sieh delivers messages in a variety of guises, then infuses the play's eponym with her special kind of radiant intensity. Left to their own devices, these three find lovely moments—but too frequently the production's devices interrupt them.
Aesthetically, it's a free-for-all. Normandy Sherwood follows her maximalist muse and designs pseudo-Balkan thriftshop festive garb for the multigender chorus of women from Chalcis; Arnulfo Maldonado fills the stage with two platforms, a giant tent and, weirdly, a lot of ferns. There's a puppet, a moment when two characters switch into street garb, a pastiche of musical styles by composer-performers the Bengsons, and rave lighting for the (offstage) sacrifice. The impression is choices made for choice's sake: The mise en scène is too awkward to deliver powerful moments when needed. The original text was a hotchpotch, full of later interpolations by writers including, according to Washburn's program note, someone called the Reviser. Perhaps Chavkin wanted to reflect that sense of a text in ribbons, but, like Agamemnon, she winds up sacrificing the most important things first.—Helen Shaw
Classic Stage Company (Off Broadway). By Euripides. Adapted by Anne Washburn. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.