‘Iphigenia 2.0’ is powerful but offensive
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2012 1:06AM
Laura T. Fisher and Nick Vidal star in the Next Theater Company production of “Iphigenia” at the Noyes Cultural Center. | Photo by Michael Brosilow
When: Through Oct. 14
Where: Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston
Info: (847) 475-1875; nexttheatre.org
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:52PM
In terms of sheer theatrical firepower, Next Theatre’s production of “Iphigenia 2.0” is nothing less than exemplary — from its sexy, muscular direction (by David Kersnar), to its accomplished cast, to its brilliant set design. But in terms of the nauseating political propaganda of Charles Mee’s 2007 reworking of “Iphigenia in Aulis” (written in 408 B.C. by Euripides), the most charitable thing to say is that it is perverse at best, grotesquely distorted at worst, and so choked by ultra-left thinking it verges on the ludicrous.
The fact that the production opened on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on this country may have been entirely inadvertent, but it only exacerbated the offensiveness. Even the most fervent opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might find it repugnant.
The story goes like this: The powerful general, Agamemnon (Aaron Todd Douglas, easily suggesting Colin Powell), is about to lead his troops into the Trojan War, but they demand a human sacrifice as proof of his worthiness, while the macho officer, Menelaus (Ricardo Gutierrez), challenged by the theft of his wife, Helen of Troy, goads him on to provide one.
Agamemnon agrees to sacrifice his much-loved, entirely spoiled teenage daughter, Iphigenia (the excellent Rebecca Buller, full of surprises), and arranges to lure her into his military headquarters by approving her marriage to the handsome, heroic and wholly unsuspecting Achilles (an absolutely ideal Nick Vidal). In the process, Agamemnon also deceives his wife, Clytemnestra (Laura T. Fisher, completely riveting here).
So far, so good. But not only does Mee, who clearly is writing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggest there was no need to respond to an attack, but he turns the very troops whose lives he seems to be so concerned about into the worst sort of brutes. (They are played with great athleticism by Luce Metrius, Wesley Daniel, Erik Strebig and Max Fabian.)
Mee also makes Iphigenia’s bridesmaids (played with zest by Alexa Ray Meyers and Ariella Marchioni, abetted by Marianna Czaszar’s costumes) into sexpot morons. Meanwhile, not surprisingly, he gives us a one-man chorus (Anthony Kayer), in the form of a devout Muslim who mutely assists the Americans even as he clearly has nothing but contempt for them. (Would Mee prefer a society that stones women to death in “honor killings” to one with sexually active adolescent girls?)
Kersnar’s fiercely ingenious staging for this 80-minute piece reveals his finely honed Lookingglass Theatre roots. A dance between the mother-of-the-bride and her daughter’s groom — performed unforgettably by Fisher and Vidal — is sensationally seductive. And Rick & Jackie Penrod’s steel cargo container set has more than a touch of genius.
Reinventing the Greeks can bear great fruit, as seen in the recent “Oedipus el Rey” and “Idomeneus.” Mee savages his source.