A is a theatre artist who loves classical theatre but feels VERY conflicted about it.
In my pockets: Director Dan Hodge and Tai Verley, who played Clytemnestra, are friends of mine, and I’m always rooting for companies like PAC that champion classical theatre. Classical theatre and I go way back. However, I never walk into plays by the dead white fellas and expect to be awash with sweet feminism…hence my conflicted feelings.
I was so excited to see this Iphigenia at Aulis done in the belly of the Olympia, but there was a wasted opportunity to play with the space. We were in a huge ship that positively begged to be explored (I totally ran around to check out the displays and fiddle with buttons. Because I’m five.)! But the action was relegated to a tiny section with the audience flan
king on two sides. I couldn’t see why we needed to be in the ship in the first place, because it wasn’t used in an engaging way. Costumes by Robin Shane were helpful to establish a sense of time and a sense of status amongst the women (Iphigenia and Clytemnestra wore frilly My Fair Ladyish getups and the two chor
us women were in earth tone frocks). And though the costumes also set up when the play was taking place, the choice of the time period itself felt arbitrary; I didn’t understand why we were in the late 19th/early 20th century. Because we were on a ship that was in use at the turn of the century? BUT WHY WERE WE ON THAT SHIP?
There’s a whole lot to unpack here, but my overall feeling is that Hodge put this material on a pedestal, and the precious treatment stripped the piece of a lot of its potential. The ideas he put out in his program notes (familial love, militarized masculinity, etc.) were all present and accounted for in his vision, but a lack of commitment kept any one idea from shining or even being clear. I couldn’t see his opinion, and therefore the waters were muddied. Hodge is incredibly smart and works well with actors, but I don’t think this showcased what he’s capable of creating.
Tai Verley was a rockstar as Clytemnestra. She has a natural approach to classical text that brightens the work and fills it with such humanity. Even when she wasn’t speaking, my eyes were almost always on her. Adam Howard as the Servant/Messenger and Becca Khalil as Iphigenia had a similar ease, which aided in bringing my modern ears into the world all the more.
I still want to believe that there are ways to explore classical plays so that the material feels super relevant to what’s currently going on in our socio-political sphere. I could hear the opportunities in the text as I watched, but the PAC’s production didn’t help keep my hopes up. Plus, if you’re doing a show in the Fringe, don’t be afraid to be messy. Just go for it. Use the damn ship.