Tina Landau’s production of the 1994 musical Floyd Collins is one of the American theatre’s high points during the past two decades. Landau’s collaborations with the playwright Charles L. Mee have sometimes been almost as memorable.
With Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0, however, in a Signature Theatre staging off-Broadway, Landau resorts to some of the technique beloved by Pina Bausch in her weaker moments: deconstruction for its own sake.
The result is a 90-minute evening filled with flash and trash that sustains one’s attention without providing much insight into its familiar story.
The central material was interpreted by Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus and taken up by countless writers since: the Greek king Agamemnon drags his country into a foolish war against Troy and believes that sacrificing his beloved daughter Iphigenia will mollify the gods.
Mee takes direct aim at the US’s current president and his conduct of the Iraq war. Personal sacrifice, says one soldier in revolt against his king, “should be the requirement placed on any leader who would engage in any enterprise that puts at risk the lives of others”.
Iphigenia, a too-dewy Louisa Krause, is to be wed to Achilles, and after she shows up for her nuptials with her mother, Clytemnestra, and two bridesmaids, the production turns from primal Greek near-tragedy to Fringe-fest near-farce.
Buff soldiers strip to their underpants and – yo! yo! yo! – dance 1990s style around the stage. The bridesmaids also get down, evoking celubutante types who dominate contemporary tabloid headlines.
I have to confess that watching near-naked young men and women who devote all their non-rehearsal time to hitting the weights is no hardship; on the other hand, if ripped abs are going to be spotlit at the theatre I’d rather that they mean something.
If the Landau-led antics undermine any hope of an effective, topical anti-war message, the performance of Kate Mulgrew as Clytemnestra almost single-handedly wrenches the story back to seriousness.
Mulgrew’s 2003 solo show Tea at Five, about Katherine Hepburn, did something extraordinary: it took a woman whom the critic Arlene Croce once said had, like Georgia O’Keeffe and Martha Graham, hardened as she aged into a crotchety caricature, and made her human again.
Mulgrew has a less enviable assignment here, but she provides a powerful argument for buying one of the Signature’s admirably low-priced tickets to this production.
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