The needs of the many…
Written by Euripides
Translation by Don Taylor
Directed by Jill Landaker
Presented by Highwire Theatre (www.highwiretheatre.org)
CSV Cultural Center,
Equity showcase (closes
Reviewed by Judd Hollander
The dangers of mob mentality and the question of how often
we would go to war if our leaders had to sacrifice their own children
beforehand: these issues are brought to the fore in Highwire Theatre Company's
stellar production (the company's first) of Iphigenia
Written by Euripides and wonderfully translated by Don
Taylor, the play is a massive character study examining what happens when
people are caught up in, or become helpless victims of, a surge of public opinion
so powerful one can only allow themselves to be swept in the current and move
forward; fight it and be destroyed or stand aside and try to pick up the pieces
of reason and sanity afterwards. There are clear links to attitudes in the
The story takes place in the costal city of Aulis in ancient
Greece at the onset of the Trojan War. Helen, considered to be the most
beautiful woman in the world, has been abducted - some say seduced - by
Consulting a prophet about the situation, it is revealed that only by the sacrifice of the King's daughter Iphigenia (Julia Davis) will the gods allow the fleet to leave. To that end, Agamemnon, a rather ambitious sort, has sent for his daughter and his wife Clytemnestra (Ninon Rogers) on the pretext of Iphigenia's being promised in marriage to the soldier Achilles (Eli James). While Agamemnon soon has a change of heart about the matter, as word of the prophecy spreads, the thousands of soldiers, all hungry for glory in battle and other spoils of war, begin to urge rather vocally, in voices that will not be denied, that Iphigenia's blood indeed be spilled. So does the population in general, who wants to teach the Trojans what happens when one of them abducts a Greek woman. (Never mind that many consider Helen to be a whore; she is still one of their own, and heritage apparently triumphs over virtue in this case.)
A very powerful piece of theatre, the production, which runs 90 minutes without an intermission, grabs the audience by the throat with its urgency and never lets go. It's interesting to note that all of the male characters are portrayed as either weak or scheming, while it's the women, albeit in subservient roles, who act with honor and a clear purpose.
Each of the characters in the piece come vividly to life thanks to a superlative cast who play off each other wonderfully and are helped immeasurably by very strong direction from Jill Landaker. Clad in a business suit, Poarch exudes a malevolent air and malicious motives, creating a perfect Menelaus. Presented to the world as wronged husband, he is actually a schemer and manipulator who wants his wife back not because they had a good marriage (Helen's purity is attacked numerous times) but because someone dared to take her from him. He also knows Agamemnon's weaknesses all too well, and like any good politician, is not afraid to exploit them to his own advantage. While Menelaus is only present in the early part of the play, with a brief appearance towards the end, his menacing presence is always felt.
Lee has the most difficult role in the piece, making Agamemnon, someone who would willingly sacrifice his daughter, a sympathetic figure. Not an easy thing to do, but Lee pulls it off nicely, giving the appearance of a leader thrust into situations beyond his control and who convinces himself he has no choice but to follow the masses. Agamemnon genuinely loves his daughter, but knows that by refusing to have her sacrificed, he will lose his position of power and quite possibly his life when the army, already on the verge of becoming a mob (and nicely played as virtual automatons at points) exact their vengeance on him for what they see as a betrayal.
James offers a refreshing and amusing take on Achilles, playing the characters as a bit of a foppish blowhard, with more style than substance, with a somewhat befuddled air about him. He also provides the only comic moments in the play. His character is one who really doesn't want to get involved in this situation (or probably any situation for that matter); rather, allowing others to make decisions for him. This is evident in his scene with Clytemnestra, first telling her exactly what she wants to hear (that he will save Iphigenia); then quickly (and amusingly) maneuvering the matter to where it is Clytemnestra who must try to save her child, while he remains safely on the sidelines. In another life, Achilles probably would have made a good politician.
The one character that doesn't completely ring true is that
Other than this one misstep, the play and direction were quite strong. The latter, keeping the action moving nicely, the tension high and the stakes higher. The set by David Newell was basically a deserted theatrical backstage area, with various props, but the production values were so strong, one felt quite immersed in the action and time period indicated. The interesting use of fluorescent lighting by K.J. Hardy was also very good and the costumes by David Withrow, basically a hodge-podge of outfits from various periods, added to the production's timeless quality. The music used in the piece was also very enjoyable.
A play with a lot to say, Iphigenia at Aulis represents an excellent start for the Highwire Theatre, definitely a group to keep an eye on in the future.
Also in the cast are David Douglas, Tommy Dickie, Jason Griffith, Sarah Brill, Michelle O'Connor, Gilliam Visco and Lilian Matsuda.
Copyright 2007 by Judd Hollander
Return to Volume Thirteen, Number Eleven Index
Return to Volume Thirteen Index
Return to Home Page