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Iphigeneia at Aulis

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Though Iphigeneia at Aulis was not originally produced until after Euripides' death, the play itself is teeming with life and all its elements. Duty, honor, love, and more are all on display in the powerful new production of the show at the Pearl Theatre Company.

Written during the Peloponnesian War, Iphigeneia at Aulis deals with the Trojan War, after the abduction of Helen of Troy. After Agamemnon arrived in the port of Aulis on a journey to retake her, the winds stopped, stranding all of his ships and men there. His solution is to send for his daughter, Iphigeneia (Sue Jin Song) to use as a sacrifice to the Gods so their quest may continue. When he sends for her, claiming he is to marry her to the great warrior Achilles, he is disturbed to find his wife Clytemnestra has come along as well.

Director Shepard Sobel has kept a firm grip on the production, and never lets it descend into melodrama or unbelievability. Every moment feels immediate and real, and there is frequently a sense of strong tension pouring from the stage. The translation used in this production, by W.S. Mervin and George E. Dimock, Jr., beautifully captures the emotions of the story; Sobel keeps the focus firmly planted on the text, and has made sure that his actors present the lines and emotions with great care.

This shows up most readily in the play's three central performances. Carol Schultz provides a very strong portrayal of Clytemnestra, Iphigeneia's mother, determined to do whatever is necessary to keep her daughter safe. Sue Jin Song handles Iphigeneia's transitions beautifully, changing from a innocent girl to a powerful woman before your eyes. Dan Daily, who also played the same role in The Oresteia two seasons ago, takes a while here find his stride. Once he does, however, his performance is every bit the emotional match for Schultz and Song.

These three actors are amply aided by Celeste Ciulla and Melissa Maxwell as the two members of the chorus, who recite their poetry with such unbridled passion, it's almost impossible to not get swept up in their spell. Indeed, as good as the lead performers are, when Maxwell and Ciulla are offstage, it is frequently difficult to think of anyone else. Robert Hock, Scott Whitehurst, and Albert Jones do well in their supporting roles, but Michael Nichols gives a less impressive portrayal of Menelaos, and hardly comes across as a sufficient match for Daily's Agamemnon.

The details of the ancient setting of the play may be different than that of our world today, but honor, obligation, and responsibility to family and country remain as important today as they did thousands of years ago. The story of Iphigeneia at Aulis is touching emboldening, and the Pearl production brings these qualities easily to the surface connecting the past and the present in a way would doubtlessly have made Euripides proud.

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The Pearl Theatre Company
Iphigeneia at Aulis by Euripides
Through December 16
Theatre 80, 80 St. Mark’s Place between First and Second Avenues
Tickets: (212) 598-9802
Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission