Chicago Theatre Review
Court Theatre’s ‘Iphigenia’ Tragedy of the Highest Order
Iphigenia in Aulis – Court Theatre
Court Theatre is easily among the most technically accomplished companies in Chicago’s rich theatrical scene, and its staging of the Greek tragedy “Iphigenia in Aulis” may be its most impressive achievement yet. Through John Culbert’s virtuosic lightning design, Jacqueline Firkins costumes, and especially Scott Davis’ scenic design, one feels as though they are truly transported back to the docks of Ancient Greece, where formidable ships and soldiers await the inevitable voyage to Troy.
And that is the focus of “Iphigenia,” which takes place the day before the Greeks are set to sail to Troy and begin the long, exhausting conflict for Helen, who was abducted by Paris and taken to the city. A problem has arisen, though – there is no wind for the ships to set sail. Instead, the winds and seas are calm, and the Greek army is left without a form of transport to Troy…except, there is a solution, though it is a grisly one. Via a prophecy, Agamemnon, the king of Argos, is told that should he sacrifice his oldest daughter, Iphigenia, the winds will return, and Greece will be able to travel to Troy and reclaim Helen.
So in other words, the plot is the stuff of “Greek tragedy,” as the cliche goes, of seemingly overblown melodrama and literal familial backstabbing; yet, through a taut 90 minutes, the remarkable cast of “Iphigenia” meticulous guides us through Agamemnon’s agonizing fate, bringing us face to face with the true horror of what he is charged to do. Through the efforts of Mark L. Montgomery (Agamemnon), Sandra Marques (Clytemnestra, his wife), Stephanie Andrea Barron (Iphigenia), and Jordan Brown (a very witty Achilles), we are offered a remarkable complementation to Court’s sets, and given emotions and attitudes that are as sincere and learned as Davis’ aged wooden boards and ropes. In “Iphigenia,” one can’t giggle at the mention of gods and sacrifices and armies – these are the actions and lives of flesh-blood characters, and director Charles Newell (who is also Court’s artistic director) and translator Nicholas Rudall (who was Court’s founding artistic director and who led the theatre from 1971 to 1994) are to be commended for their remarkable efforts.
And Court Theatre is hardly done with the Greeks. The original Greek dramas were composed in a trilogy, one that offered a full three-dimensional view of the play’s characters, motivations and fates. Though “Iphigenia” is missing the other two plays of its trilogy (indeed, only one full trilogy still exists of the 32 surviving Greek tragedies), Court has decided to pursue the amazingly ambitious task of forging its own trilogy in linking “Iphigenia” with two other Greek plays – “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus and “Electra by Sophocles, which will be performed over the next two seasons.
Thanks to the results of “Iphigenia,” I eagerly await the next two chapters in the trilogy.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented Nov. 6 – Dec. 7 at Court Theatre, 5535 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting www.courttheatre.org
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.