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BWW Review: IPHIGENIA IN SPLOTT at Upstream Theater

Upstream production playing at the Marcelle

BWW Review: IPHIGENIA IN SPLOTT at Upstream Theater

It's an empty stage. It's almost a void. Just blacks and three chairs. There's a bit of rumpled bedding on the floor. A bit of scaffolding in the far corner. But really, just black. Some metal rock swells, and then . . . BANG! A door slams and SHE sweeps on!!

For the next hundred minutes or so this fierce, vulgar, razor-sharp young woman with a chip on her shoulder grabs us and abuses us and wrenches us and drags us by the loose ends of our guts through her world and her life in Splott. Slowly she gets a firm grip on our hearts too. This is Effie, the central--the sole--performer in this story. Jennifer Theby-Quinn makes her incandescent! She is pure acetylene!

The play is called "Iphigenia in Splott". It's by the prolific and award-winning Welsh playwright Gary Owen. It's running now at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center, and it's produced by the wonderful Upstream Theater company.

Splott is a working-class suburb of Cardiff. Effie (apparently unemployed) leads a meaningless life of drink and drugs, pubs and clubs, sex with her doltish boy-friend Kev, and one three-day hangover blending into the next three-day hangover. Some might call people like Effie "scum". But scum is on the top; Effie is definitely on the bottom. But, God, she is articulate!

There is a carefully structured drama here. During one liquor-laden evening in a club, out of pique, Effie abandons Kev and spends the night with Lee, a stranger--a disabled veteran who lost a leg in Afghanistan. Complications ensue--not least of which is True Love. She realizes, miraculously, "I am not alone!"

I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that there are disappointments. Big disappointments.

Twice, in this tale, Effie--the epitome of her antisocial generation--finds it in herself to forego desperately-desired vengeance. She does this to protect others, strangers--this girl whose life had, till then, focused purely on self. This self-sacrifice implies that she realizes (in a greater sense) that she is not alone.

This gal has such depths of strength! Well, that's what "Iphigenia" means--"strong-born".

The ending leaves us with an odd and rather "tacked-on" political message that "They" have denied the poor adequate medical care and other social services. At Aulis Iphigenia was sacrificed by Agamemnon to gain fair winds for his voyage to Troy. Some years ago, in "Iphigenia in Orem", Neil LaBute gave us an Iphigenia sacrificed by her Mormon father to gain corporate success. In "Iphigenia in Splott", who is sacrificing Effie(genia)? And for what?

But that's really a minor quibble. This is a powerhouse production.

Jennifer Theby-Quinn gives a bravura performance. Such energy! Such intensity! Kudos to her and to director Patrick Siler for instilling this production with such athletic grace and power.

This is indeed a performance not to be missed.

It continues at the Marcelle through February 6th.

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