Review: Iphigeneia at Aulis (Lights Out Theatre)

  
  

Ritualistic elements explore value and purpose of faith

  
  

Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

  
Lights Out Theatre presents
   
   
Iphigeneia at Aulis
   
Written by Euripides
Directed and Adapted by Josh Altman
at Collaboraction, Flat Iron Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee (map)
through June 5  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

More than just a little hippie feeling prevails in Lights Out Theatre’s production of Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis. That vibe comes, partly, from Collaboraction’s theater-in-the-round space, which seats its audience on pillows at various levels to the stage floor. The other contribution comes from Josh Altman’s cast of barefoot players, complete with hearty drum elements, which make their Greek army stranded on the shores of Aulis look more like a summer of love gone wrong. Love gone wrong isn’t a bad choice of words, since Helen, wife of Menelaos (Michael Hamilton), has run off to Troy with Paris. Now the cuckolded husband and his brother, Agamemnon (Kipp A scene from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)Moorman), must amass their armies to get her back. But even fatherly affection doesn’t stand a chance once the army’s prophets proclaim that Artemis demands the sacrifice of Iphigeneia (Anne Leone), Agamemnon’s daughter, to get the whole enterprise off to sea.

Earthy and casual may be the look but nothing’s sloppy about the cast’s indelible care with Euripides’ language (adaptation also by Altman). Moorman, particularly, wrings every ounce of sympathy, depth and miserable humanity from his guilty and tormented father figure while never casting doubt on his position as commander-in-chief of Greece’s forces. Partnered with a rich and resonant performance by Barbara Figgins as Clytemnestra, Moorman holds the dramatic space through which Euripides savages dubious religion, the insanity of war and the dangerous power of demagoguery—political concerns of an Athens demoralized by the Peloponnesian War 2500 years ago, still finding their resilient parallel today.

While most of Altman’s younger cast members securely back up the principal leads, Iphigeneia’s shrill desperate pleas to Agamemnon’s for mercy doesn’t allow much play or range. Of course, the girl’s about to die, yet Leone needs to find the nuance of Iphigeneia’s mental state to make her anguish more watchable and compelling.

     
Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti) Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)
Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti) Rehearsal photo from Lights Out Theatre's "Iphigeneia at Aulis" by Euripides, now playing at the Collaboraction space in Wicker Park's Flat Iron Building.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

Neither does Iphigeneia’s sudden 180-degree turn toward being the willing victim convince–and for this play, it very badly needs to. Euripides makes a habit of putting his characters through 180-degree turns. He assigns several to other characters in this play alone. It almost seems like a perverse test for the actor, to instantaneously supply their character with psychological veracity in absolute contradiction to what they felt a moment ago. But having begun without much depth toward losing her life, becoming the Greek’s willing sacrificial lamb also proceeds without the intense psychological subtext that makes Iphigeneia’s transformation credible.

At least the ritualistic elements of Altman’s direction, bracingly and cunning bolstered by Hamilton’s drumming and Ben Chang’s violin, close Iphigeneia in Aulis with fundamental questions about the value and purpose of faith. By accepting an absurdity—that her death will bring freedom to Greece and immortality to her–Iphigeneia is able to transcend her misery and embrace her end with serene, courageous, almost godly composure. But should such things be believed? Figgins carries the evening with her exit clouded in doubt and suspense.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Members of the "Iphigeneia at Aulis" cast, including: Ben Chang, Anthony DeMarco, Barbara Figgins, Michael Hamilton, Adam Hinkle, Anne Leone, Anna Lucero, Kipp Moorman, and Andrew Nowak.  (Photo: Serena Valenti)

All photos by Serena Valenti

     

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Wednesday Wordplay: Bono, Euripides, Samuel Beckett

Motivational Quotes

 

bono

There’s the country of America, which you have to defend, but there’s also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it’s an idea. An idea that’s supposed to be contagious.
           — Bono, Oprah Winfrey Show, 2002

 

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.
           — Euripides

FDR 

Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.
           — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Pan American Day, April 15, 1939

It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don’t. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever.
           — Phillip Adams

 

martha stewart 

Life is too complicated not to be orderly.
           — Martha Stewart, quoted in Harper’s Bazaar

 

 

In summer, the song sings itself.
           — William Carlos Williams

samuel beckett 

Ever tried?   Ever failed?   No Matter, try again, fail again.  Fail better.
           — Samuel Beckett

Acquire inner peace and a multitude will find their salvation near you.
           — Catherine de Hueck Doherty

REVIEW: Effie (The Neapolitans)

When ‘Gossip Girl’ meets Orwell’s 1984

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The Neapolitans present
 
Effie
 
by Cory Tamler
directed by Brea Hayes
at EP Theater, 1820 S. Halsted (map)
thru May 9th  |  tickets: $10-$20  |  more info

So many things go wrong with The Neapolitans’ production of Effie. Written by Cory Tamler and directed by Brea Hayes, they attempt a modern retelling of EuripidesIphigenia, wherein Agamemnon is President of the United States, Clytemnestra, or Clyta (Anna Carini) is First Lady, Achillles (Andrew Burden Swanson) is their daughter’s fiancé, and Iphigenia, or Effie (Hilary Williams), is the sacrificial victim. On stage at EP Theatre, it’s a premise we are all meant to take seriously—no comedy, satire or irony here. The play is meant to have modern political and social import because, in this dystopian fantasy of America, the bombings of the Twin Towers on 9/11 were not the end. Instead, in Effie, terrorists have hit city after city, reducing America to an unstable wreck of a security-compromised nation.

effie-poster How like Iraq. A couple of years ago, I read an essay by an Iraqi journalist about the trials and tribulations of trying to drive to work in the morning in Baghdad. Just getting from point A to point B meant driving through a gauntlet of checkpoints at which terrorist attacks could take place at any moment. In fact, being stopped at a checkpoint made one more vulnerable to attack. He wrote of his daily experience that the moment of attack would be unknown, the type of attack was unknown, the group behind the attack was unknown, and the reasons for the attack were unknown.

The stiff and drawn-out exposition at the beginning of Effie attempts, but fails, to establish the tone of danger and uncertainty in the state of the nation. Plus, such striking similarities between this play’s dystopian USA and recent daily life in Iraq go completely unacknowledged, leaving it utterly untapped for dramatic resonance.

On with the premise: as a last ditch effort to save America from the terrorists, Agamemnon calls on his daughter to become the first suicide bomber—a lovely symbolic gesture that the government hopes will inspire other Americans, perhaps especially young Americans, to become suicide bombers. Near the end of the play, crowds gather to urge Effie on to her glorious, patriotic fate. In the end, just as in Euripides’ classic, Effie willingly submits herself with some protestation, some tears, but not too much ado.

This story has been told many times before and in much better ways. In fact, this version makes me tremble in terror—not that our country could end up like this—but that the playwright and the producers themselves seem so blindly obsessed with romancing the jihad – Christian style. Without irony it asks what would get people to commit the ultimate sacrifice for their country—as if there aren’t Americans already sacrificing for their country now. Well, mostly poor and working class Americans are, but let’s come back to that later.

This play depicts NO dissent, raised in any coherent or consistent manner, against the suicide bomber notion. NO characters provide decent counterpoint as to whether suicide bombing is needed. More importantly, no character asks whether suicide bombing will actually stop terrorist attack. NOTHING politically aware or militarily feasible penetrates the bubble around this tawdry melodrama about an elite family. (I mean, the military has developed drones for attack. Why turn to live suicide bombers?) Yet the audience is called upon to take their melodrama and its political possibilities seriously. Finally, the work is rife with all the self-absorption of “Gossip Girl” — again without a scintilla of irony or a hint of fun.

Tragically, the Neapolitans are in way over their heads with this retelling—but are they even aware how far and how deeply they have stepped in it? At one point, Achilles, Effie’s fiancé, lectures her on the value of knowing history. Then he proceeds to say that nothing happened during the Cold War, it was all a stalemate. There is no counterpoint to this statement; again, nothing indicates that the audience should take it ironically. Everything points to giving Achilles’ dialogue credibility.

Really? Nothing happened during the Cold War? A little thing called Vietnam happened during the Cold War–it happened because of the Cold War. Furthermore, America’s active participation with troops in Vietnam began with a little thing called the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. On August 4, 1964, President Johnson went before the American people and pronounced that North Vietnamese torpedo boats had twice fired on an American destroyer in an unprovoked attack in the Gulf of Tonkin. It was a lie. It was a lie that the American media then ran with. It was a lie that started Vietnam for real for Americans and ended up sacrificing 50,000 American lives–most of them averaging 18 years of age.

Young people are always being asked to sacrifice their lives by older people who start and maintain wars–conventional wars or the War On Terror. It’s just that privileged young people usually get exempted from having to make that sacrifice. Is that what makes Effie’s sacrifice special?–that she’s a rich, privileged, sheltered and self-absorbed teenager being called to a sacrifice that’s de rigueur for poor and working class kids during times of war? If Effie’s being called to sacrifice, is it because all the drones have failed and all the poor and working class kids have already died in the war and now the country must use her to rally the youth of the upper classes–if they haven’t escaped to Canada already?

Have The Neapolitans really thought this thing through?

Let us kindly rename this play a work in progress, not a “world premiere,” as touted in the press release. If there is one scene worth salvaging for further development, it’s the one in which Effie realizes, “I don’t get to be a person . . . I’m such a pawn, I might as well be made of plastic.” That moment is golden.

Hilary Williams pulls out the stops to play Effie sympathetically, without denying her character’s total self-absorption. Anna Carini makes one tough, stylish, dangerous, and maternally flawed Clytemnestra. The Chorus (Brandon Thompson and Danielle Maihoffer) takes a while to warm up. Awkward exposition provides many speed bumps for them through the beginning of the play. But the cleverness of their presence in the piece eventually reveals itself; their final sections are also worth saving. As Achilles, Swanson is given the burden of pronouncing that ridiculous dialogue about knowing your history. The scene between Achilles and Clyta also bogs down under maudlin melodramatic weight. It is truly difficult to tell if the fault is in the dialogue or the acting.

Stefin Stebert’s production design provides some style in costuming and a decidedly stylish upper class apartment for the set. Alas, good style cannot save Effie in its current incarnation.

What if peace could be guaranteed by the sacrifice of one human life? What if the life were yours?” Such is the statement printed in bold graphics on the cover of the play’s program. I think The Neapolitans are being deeply sincere in asking that question.

Well, if peace really and truly can be guaranteed by the sacrifice of one human life—as The Neapolitans suggest it can–then that life is not going to be mine. If an unaware, apolitical, 16-year-old girl from a twisted political family will take my place, so much the better. If she is so plastic, she allows herself to be led to the slaughter even when the alternative lies right at her elbow, well then bon voyage. If she is so ignorant of history, she can’t even detect the ignorance of her fiancé while he lectures her about being ignorant of history, then perhaps she was too sheltered or stupid to survive in this world anyway. Daddy is sacrificing you; Mom is sleeping with your boyfriend; and your pontificating boyfriend has been fucking you and your mother at the same time. Maybe it is time to die.

That death may indeed be tragic, but you can’t make me care about the life that is being sacrificed. Not when real people’s lives are being sacrificed to the two wars we are currently in and with an economic crisis brought on our heads by financial elites playing with our future.

 
 
Rating:  ★½
 
 

 

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REVIEW: Medea with Child (Sideshow Theatre)

When the Goddess devours her own

 

MedeaWithChild6

 
Sideshow Theatre Company presents
 
Medea with Child
 
by Janet Burroway
directed by Jonathan L. Green
at La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston  (map)
through April 25th (more info)

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Medea With Child by Janet Burroway confronts the shallowness of modern-day existence still under the burdens of sexism, racism, age-ism, and nationalism; only these age-old fault lines are compounded further by contemporary image obsession, especially as political manipulation. It’s also a play about a (supernaturally) powerful woman reeling over lost love, lost youth, lost dignity, and, therefore, needing no more pretenses regarding motherly devotion. Sideshow Theatre Company clearly has too much fun with this material, yet they are simply co-conspiring with the playwright’s fast-paced, satirical wit and inspired juxtapositions.

MedeaWithChild4 Based on Euripides’ classic play The Medea, Media (Sojourner Zenobia Wright) acts out as the ultimate, ethno-folkloric Mommie Dearest—slaughtering her children in revenge against her husband’s infidelity and his total sociopolitical displacement of her. Burroway keeps the theme of Media’s barbarism completely intact from the Ancient Greek original but stretches its metaphor of the total stranger to its outer limits. Perhaps even more than Euripides’ heroine, Media is the eternal sister outsider.

Rising mythically out of Africa’s primordial depths, Media’s expansive, magical perception of reality extends far beyond normal human experience. As a result, she lives in the perpetual state of no one ever really getting her. She can talk on and on to slippery politico Crayon (Richard Warner) or to wayward husband Chasten (John Bonner)—but no one truly understands what she is saying and thinking.

Indeed, given their own total self-absorption with image and all its ramifications, no one around Media may even be trying. This establishes to some of most sublime contradictions in the course of the play. Glossy (Nicole Richwalsky), Crayon’s daughter and Chasten’s new secretary/squeeze, proclaims herself a feminist and claims Media as her feminist icon. But she is wrong on both counts. Media is not a feminist; her powers do not come from feminism–they come from a more primal place and go well beyond anything so dry as feminist political theory. She is what every feminist wishes she could be—especially the old school, Second Wave warriors who claimed witches for their feminist role models. Likewise, Glossy’s upstaging of Media in her affair with Chasten could hardly be recognized as a feminist act. Indeed, Glossy seems more fascinated with Media’s celebrity feminist status than any actual empowerment for herself or other women. When all is said and done, she basks in Media’s reflected glory by bedding her husband.

It’s a fine example of Burroway’s wry, twisted wit winking through the dialogue. Sisterhood is powerful; but not when young feminist sister stabs sister in the back because she has a mistaken idea of what feminism is. It may be completely mute in the company of men who have no interest in contradicting Glossy and every interest in moving Media aside for a brand, new (post-feminist?) order. It’s not just that the prospect for women’s empowerment goes down the tubes. Puerility replaces substance; swapping out Glossy for Media is like substituting The Runaways with The Spice Girls.

MedeaWithChild3 MedeaWithChild5

By no means is that the limit of this play’s comic scope. Indeed, several viewings might be needed to savor every flavorful drop of its juicy, wicked goodness. Director Jonathan L. Green has assembled a superlative cast, all evenly sure and subtle in their delivery. As Media’s children, both in their play and their prognostications about mother, Fairies (Andrew Sa) and Murmurous (Lea Pascal) have the sacrificial victim thing disturbingly down pat.

So much meticulous attention has been given to every detail in performance and design each moment brings new discoveries and revelations. Joshua Lansing’s set design not only provides versatility, it places surprises in every corner. David Hyman’s construction of Media’s costume alone deserves an award and Wright certainly wears it well. She may be a killer, but girl knows how to bring the Hoodoo Mama chic!

One thing remains peculiarly striking, however. For all the humorous and inventive ways Burroway plays with the myth of Medea and Jason of the Argonauts, Media remains comparatively serious and unable to use humor as her weapon or shield. Wright’s portrayal of Media is nothing but fiercely and sensually witty, but Media herself seems unable to step back and realize the laughable ridiculousness of Chasten’s mid-life-crisis affair with shallow Glossy. In having Media feel too much and without ironic perspective, Burroway preserves the tragicomic nature of the play—exploring, as she wishes, the dark psychodynamics of enmeshed anti-motherhood and love’s betrayal. But is she, consciously or unconsciously, re-inscribing a humorless proto-feminism in the character of Media?

At the start of the play, Crayon holds up a list of possible options for the outcome of the story, in the hope that this time no one would have to die. I didn’t see a palimony option on that list. But palimonied freedom for Media and custody of the kids for Chasten and Glossy would be a completely different play, shifting the myth from tragedy to tragicomedy to comedy. The kind of 5th century BCE political comedy that made Aristophanes famous–wherein the hero, through his trickster nature, overcame his opponents and got everything he wanted. Is Media, for all her dark power and mystical nature, still not a trickster? Does that kind of comic ending still only look good on men and not on women?

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

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Review: Bare Boned Theatre’s “The Hecubae”

The Hecubae Strains Between Ancient Poetry and Horrendous Modern Reality

Polyxena (Beth Allin, R) awaits sacrifice by the Son of Achilles  

Bare Boned Theatre presents

The Hecubae
by Rebekah Walendzak and Jeffrey Brouthiette
directed by Jeffrey Bouthiette
Running through Sunday, August 30th  (buy tickets)

What is Hecuba to us or we to Hecuba? The obvious answer could lie in the present-day struggles of women eking out an existence in war torn camps for displaced The ghost of Polydorus possesses the women of the chorus (clockwise from left: Cynthia Shur, Lorraine Freund, Sienna Harris, Emily Friedrick). persons. Bare Boned Theatre’s playwrights Rebekah Walendzak and Jeffrey Bouthiette have attempted to mesh the excruciating suffering of contemporary women in the midst of war with Euripides’ classic tale of a war-devastated queen. Unfortunately, what they have gained may be just equal with what they have lost in the process. Furthermore, substantial lack of clarity in some scenes may ruin the theatrical experience for those unacquainted with the original work.

On the plus side, the general shift in the play, from Hecuba surrounded by her attending women to the women being refugees in a contemporary camp, strengthens the Greek choral moments of the original play. Directed by Bouthiette, the unity of The Hecubae’s all-women cast is resilient and undeniable. Moments of song evoke the greatest power and hope for their survival.

One Greek choral moment in the beginning, however, must be thoroughly revised for greater clarity. The choral performance of Hecuba’s youngest child being killed by a trusted friend and ally is far too confusing. And the use of a woven mat to represent her child is far too amateur for this production.

Hecuba (Samantha Garcia) grieves the death of her daughterBare Bone’s modernization of Euripides becomes more effective with smaller touches—such as when a soldier with ruined legs, mounted on a makeshift cart, wheels onstage to tell Hecuba the latest bad news. The scene where Odysseus uses graphs to explain how Hecuba’s daughter will be sacrificed ranks as a near-perfect portrayal of rationalized brutality. Casting the young Samantha Garcia as Hecuba follows Bare Boned Theatre’s philosophy of non-traditional casting, yet Garcia’s command of Euripides’ poetic language conveys her Hecuba as noble as well as fallen.

How sad it is, then, when this adaptation splits scenes in such a way that poetry and dramatic tension are lost. Then contemporary travesties only obscure, instead of enlighten, Euripides’ words and drain away the potential for Hecuba to stand for all women in war.

Hecuba (Samantha Garcia, left) watches Hec015

It’s back to the drawing board for the playwrights. They must strive once more, not only to sustain a dramatic arc through crucial scene changes between the ancient and modern camps, but also to personalize and particularize the suffering of modern women in war for a truly meaningful adaptation. In general, clichéd representations of women’s suffering or victimization do not move people. People can feel sorry for the women represented in such a drama, but they cannot become emotionally engaged with their suffering as audiences should be.

Euripides knew how to make his deeply sexist, predominantly male Greek audience identify with Hecuba–with her powerlessness, her outrage, and her descent into dehumanizing violence. He could pull them from their positions of male privilege and plunge them into the profound depths of loss and despair that women in war know. We should be so lucky to have the same done to us.

Rating: «
 

Full Cast: Beth Allin, Lorraine Freund, Emily Friedrick, Samantha Garcia, Sienna Harris, Earlina “Earl” McLaurin, Cynthiaq Shur

Creative Team: Mike Smith (lighting design), Jeffrey Bouthiette (sound design), Matthew Buettner (scenic design), Aly Greaves (costume design), Chris Radar (Stage Manager)