By Patrick Hurley
Iphigenia in Aulis, presented by the Getty Museum and Court Theatre, is playing now at the Getty Villa. The play is the last extant tragedy by Ancient Greek playwright Euripides, and was part of a tetralogy that also included Bacchae.
Iphigenia in Aulis is a dark and evocative tale surrounding King Agamemnon (Mark Montgomery), the leader of the Greek army during the Trojan war, and the sacrifice he must make in order to ensure his troops have the gods support in order to sail to Troy for battle. His sacrifice? He must kill his daughter Iphigenia (Stephanie Andrea Barron).
Trapped in Aulis, without a hint of wind to help them sail, and with readied troops, Agamemnon must seriously consider the sacrifice so as not to have to deal with rebellion from his bloodthirsty troops. Agamemnon sends for Iphigenia, under the pretense that she is to come to Aulis to marry the hero Achilles (Acquah Kwame Dansoh). Iphigenia and her mother Clytemnestra (Sandra Marquez) arrive, both of them excited at the prospect of the young woman’s marriage to a war hero. However, when Achilles meets with the women, he informs them that he is not aware of a marital arrangement. This leads Clytemnestra to discovering the truth from Agamemnon. He confesses that he must sacrifice their daughter for the good of the Greeks.
The remainder of the play deals with both Iphigenia and Clytemnestra trying to persuade Agamemnon not to go through with the murder. Not helping matters is Agamemnon’s brother Menelaus (Michael Huftile), who urges his brother at the top of the play to kill his daughter, and then changes his mind and proceeds to argue against the killing. The play, indeed deals with a highly indecisive Agamemnon. He changes his mind about the killing twice, and struggles with himself throughout. This is the only Ancient Greek play that shows Agamemnon as anything other than a monster.
This production has some confusing elements. The costumes of the Chorus, for starters, they’re wearing (mostly) shiny bridesmaid-style dresses. They look as if they’re going to a wedding, or maybe even a prom. The choice to have the Chorus sing, while apropos to the ancient text, created a strange girl group from the 50s vibe that didn’t support the rest of the piece. The staging, in general, was slightly stifled, and at times depleted tension because of negative space and angles. The playing space is gorgeous, but director Charles Newell oddly kept things very centered and choreographed as if this was being performed in a traditional proscenium-style theater. So all the empty space that could be used to heighten tension and theatricality is mostly just entrance and exit space.
The set too, is a bit underwhelming, with piles of rolled up cords next to large lights that are off for most of the evening, and only really had a purpose for the stylized ending that happens.
The acting, too is a little inconsistent, because the heavy-handedness of the subject seems to push actors to overplay emotion, rather than fully connect to the text, and so the emotions get a bit too strained and this can make an audience tune out, rather than empathize. There are moments that definitely work in the production, and the strength of Clytemnestra is occasionally very convincingly found by Sandra Marquez. And as Agamemnon, Mark Montgomery is convincingly commanding and conflicted.
In the end, the production falters in fully embodying the text, and doesn’t stylize enough for full clarity, so it’s a little off-kilter the entire time. Maybe it’s ironic that the indecisive nature of the production reflects the indecisive nature of it’s main character. However, when the text shines through, the play comes to life, and it’s easy to see why all these thousands of years later, this is still an impressively wondrous piece of literature.
Iphigenia in Aulis
Translated by Nicholas Rudall
Directed by Charles Newell
Co-Produced by the Getty Museum and Court Theatre
Outdoor Classical Theater, Getty Villa
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, CA.
Thurs-Sat Sept 7-30 8PM