Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Iphigenia in Splott
Upstream Theater

Review by Richard T. Green

Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Photo by
"I will never see anything like this again," I kept telling myself, as the actress Jennifer Theby-Quinn wailed in premature labor in the back of a careening ambulance on a dark and snowy road in Gary Owen's 2015 play about life in a run-down section of Cardiff, Wales. Technically there is no ambulance, or any snow on stage. But as with any good story, by that point, there's no turning back. The equally terrific Patrick Siler directs, for the highly esteemed Upstream Theater at the Marcelle Theatre, a few blocks east of Powell Symphony Hall.

And it's not just that wild ride, which is over an hour into this 105 minute one woman show. It's also the fact that we now recognize people like this as a category of victims of the great shifting of fortunes, who are suddenly refugees of their own kind of climate change in which faraway economists and investment bankers deal out fates, and lush rain forests of jobs and shops and futures are reduced to economic deserts in just one or two generations.

Case in point: a steel mill in the Splott neighborhood near the English Channel in the southeastern part of Cardiff, a steel mill built in the late 1800s that's no longer open, no longer the local economic engine. And yet, Iphigenia (or "Effie") hangs on where she was born, living an empty life of sex and drinking. And everyone else seems like a space alien, and nothing is real until it hurts. And she's about to be in for a lot of hurt.

There is an utterly breathless primal beat, and a personal conjuring, in the lovemaking moments with a stranger that soon propel a wretched stalking–and an anguished confrontation, too. In that conjuring, an Iraq war veteran's sensitivity over a partial amputation becomes shockingly intimate, evoking a phantom ecstasy in them both.

More broadly, though, there's no question that this is an "angry young woman" play. Everything is expressed as a grievance, so thank goodness for Ms. Theby-Quinn's voluminous comic credentials. Nor is there any doubt that the actress on stage is able to see her character from every imaginable angle, even when Effie herself looks away.

Echoes of classicalism ring through from the past, as when she wraps herself in a plain white blanket to make a sort of toga in the wretched darkness. Iphigenia, in ancient drama, was the daughter of Agamemnon and doomed to be sacrificed to the goddess Artemis. But Effie seems sacrificed long ago, by the gods of global economics, and suffers terrible new losses in this fast-paced play as well. Her bitter loneliness seems to rise from her debilitating jealousies, which seem like a prosthetic for an individual sense of survival. And in a way, these seem to work against her sudden call to action near the end, which springs from a chance encounter shortly before. But (like the title character in Lisa Loomer's 2016 play Roe) such stark, newfound idealism becomes anchor in a life of self-induced storms. And, it turns out, an angry young woman can cause every bit as much trouble as an angry young man.

I was scheduled to see two more plays this same weekend, but they were each postponed out of concern for the welfare of the audience and casts, and delayed for another six weeks due to COVID-19. Maybe one-person shows, with lots of spacing in the audience, masks, and proof of vaccination, are the future of any pandemic season. Here, with this thrilling combination of actress and director, it all seems a lot more personal in the end.

Iphigenia in Splott runs through February 6, 2022, at Upstream Theater's Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shephard Drive, a block west of Compton Ave., St. Louis MO. A guarded, fenced, lit parking lot is right across the street. For more information visit

Effie: Jennifer Theby-Quinn*

Director: Patrick Siler
Scenic/Costume Design: Laila Alvarado
Lighting Design: Joseph W. Clapper
Master Electrician/Co-Lighting Design: Tony Anselmo
Sound Design: Kareem Deanes
Stage Manager: James Anthony*
Technical Director: Silas Coggeshall
Dialect Coach: Teresa Doggett
Covid Safety Manager, Board Operator: Nathan Wright
Assistant Stage Manager: Samantha Yahl
Graphic Design: Sleepy Kitty Arts
Cover Photo: Steven Garrington
House Manager and Box Office: Monica Roscoe
Publicity: Marla Stoker Ballenger
Program Design: Clare Fairbanks

* Denotes member, Actors' Equity Association