Iphigenia 2.0: Not Getting Married Today

"I like to take a Greek play, smash it to ruins, and then, atop the ruins, write a new play," says Charles Mee, playwright in residence for The Signature Theatre Company's new season.  In smashing Iphigenia At Aulis by Euripides and writing atop it Iphigenia 2.0, Mee, along with long-time collaborator, director Tina Landau, have adapted the ancient Greek text into an abstract pageant that not-so-subtly questions current American foreign policy, amidst some good laughs, some interesting visuals and some scantily clad boys and girls.

In the ancient myth, a Greek fleet led by Agamemnon is delayed in its attempt to attack Troy by an unfavorable wind, courtesy of goddess Artemis, who requires Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before she will allow him to set sail.  In Mee's contemporary version, Agamemnon (Tom Nelis, looking like he could be a close relative of the current president) is confronted by his troops who refuse to risk their lives in battle unless their leader proves his commitment by making a sacrifice equal to the one they may be about to make.  So Iphigenia (Louisa Krause) is lured into town by a promise of marriage to Achilles (Seth Numrich).  Followed by her two bridesmaids (Emily Kinney and Chasten Harmon), the excitably squealing, fashion-conscious trio seems plucked from the chorus of Legally Blonde. Close behind is Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra, a lusciously theatrical Kate Mulgrew, whose vibrant performance dominates every moment she's on stage.  She and Numrich are especially fun in a scene where Clytemnestra, aware of her husband's intentions, tries to lure the shy Achilles to her side through a lesson in ballroom dancing.

Aside from adapting Euripides, Mee drew text from such sources as blogs from both American soldiers in Iraq and from excited brides-to-be.  As in many of his plays, the storytelling is intentionally indirect, structured as a collage of scenes.  If you're the type who is bound to ask why the soldiers (Jimonn Cole, Will Fowler, J. D. Goldblatt and Jesse Hooker) have stripped down to their skivvies and are dancing a hip-hop routine, who the heck that kindly old man talking in Greek (Angelo Niakas) and hanging around in the back is supposed to be or where that blow-up swimming pool came from you may find yourself getting anxious for the author to return to the plot.  If a lively production that offers little explanation for its various bursts of abstract theatrics can hold your attention, you're in for an entertaining evening.

The play suffers a bit from the subtle performance of Nelis, who seems too mild for the wild antics surrounding him, especially when compared to the attention-grabbing Mulgrew and the crisp, hawkish manner of Rocco Sisto as his brother, Menelaus.  Krause, on the other hand, is so over-the-top silly at first that her character's emotional transition to her final scene is too abrupt to be believeable. 

Exposing nearly every inch of playing space available, Blythe R.D. Quinian's site-specific set is an impressive, eclectic mix of modern and ancient.  Scott Zielinski's lighting and Jill BC DuBoff's sound make solid atmospheric contributions and Anita Yavich's costumes convey the characters in nice broad strokes.  (I especially liked Clytemnestra's form-fitting silver dress, clinging to Mulgrew like sexy armor.)

If Iphigenia 2.0 has a message to offer, it's nothing we haven't already heard in clearer terms in speeches from numerous Democratic presidential candidates.  Style prevails over substance in this one.

Photos by Carol Rosegg: (top) Kate Mulgrew; (center) Rocco Sisto and Tom Nelis; (bottom) Kate Mulgrew, Louisa Krause, and Jesse Hooker

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