NEW YORK – A very pleasant surprise awaited the audience that flocked to Theatre 54 in Manhattan Saturday night for Iphigenia Among theTaurians, which also marked the start of the New York Euripides Summer Festival.
The festival is organized by the American Thymele Theater (ATT), which remains committed to preserving and spreading Greek culture and presenting classic works to the public.
Iphigenia Among the Taurians was written by Euripides sometime between 414 and 412 BC and is part of a rare kind of classical theater, the tragicomedy. When the comedic side of the play is overlooked by directors it has the effect of shifting the work into pure tragedy, which does not work well on stage.
This is a trap that director Stephen Diacrussi has deftly avoided. As a result, a complete, fast-paced work has been presented to the public, allowing the audience to not only feel concern for the characters, but to laugh with them from start to finish.
The show opens with Iphigenia – portrayed by actress Jade Anderson – addressing the audience and telling her tragic story and that of her family, the royal House of Atreus, who were the leaders of the Greeks during the seizure and occupation of Troy.
As the heroine recounts her story we learn that while still in Aulis before the beginning of the Trojan War, her father, Agamemnon, led her to her death, offering her as a sacrifice to the Goddess Artemis in order to secure favorable wind for his ships. Thanks to Artemis changing her mind, Iphigenia was saved and a deer was sacrificed in her place.
Miraculously Artemis transported Iphigenia from Aulis to the barbaric land of the Taurians where she now serves as the priestess of the goddess. As priestess she is required to follow a tradition that she considers barbaric and detestable: in Tauris human sacrifices are made of Greeks arrested in the country. Iphigenia’s obligation is to purify the victims before the slaughter.
Soon Orestes, Iphigenia’s brother, and his friend Pyladis are driven in front of her to be purified for sacrifice. Will Iphigenia be able to recognize her brother, who she last saw as a baby, before it’s too late? And, if fate finally favors them and the siblings recognize each other, how will they escape the inhospitable and barbaric Tauris?
Actress Jade Anderson masterfully emphasizes the feelings of Iphigenia as a trapped human being that has to rely on her rationality and resourcefulness to overcome difficulties. She also presents her heroine in a remarkable way, as a woman living in a foreign land, still feeling nostalgia and affection for a family and a homeland that haven’t treated her well.
One of the most enjoyable elements of the show is the chemistry between the actors Frank Pagliaro, as Orestes, and Gerome Olona, as Pylades. Their passionate friendship and comedic gaffes enable the audience to not only empathize with them, but to feel invested in their fate and to hope for their salvation, even though the ending of this classic play is a little too well known to all of us.
The ATT, besides Iphigenia Among the Taurians, also presented the anti-war play Daughters of Troy. All performances are free, honoring this way the ancient Greek tradition of free theater.
More information can be found at (http: //www.bit.ly/euripidesfest)