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Culture

Iphigenia in Aulis Opens at the Getty Villa

September 18, 2017
Vasilis Papoutsis

LOS ANGELES, CA – The twelfth annual outdoor theatrical production in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villafeatures Euripides’ ancient tale of power, revenge and sacrifice.

Iphigenia in Aulis is produced by the Court Theater, the professional theater of the University of Chicago, on a translation by its founding director Nicholas Rudall. The invitation to bring the production to the Villa “is a very unique honor for the company because the Getty invites only the finest international and national companies to perform.”

Award-winning director Charles Newell says that the Getty is the “Mecca of classical theater, the only place I know that offers exclusively Greek and Roman classics.”In Euripides’ play we find King Agamemnon’s army stagnant on the shores of Aulis as a result of an insult the King has committed to the goddess Artemis, who now demands the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in order for her to release the winds that will allow Agamemnon’s army to sail to Troy. Faced with the impossible decision Agamemnon, portrayed skillfully by Mark Montgomery, cannot bring himself to tell his wife Clytemnestra the truth and instead tells her to bring Iphigenia to Aulis as she is to marry the legendary Greek hero Achilles. Ridden with guilt Agamemnon has a change of heart and sends a second note to his wife to disregard the first one but she never receives that note because it was intercepted by Menelaus. It was the abduction of Melelaus’ wife Helen that was the pretext to the war and initially Menelaus in infuriated with Agamemnon’s change of mind, only to find himself reversing his position and suggesting that the Greek army disband rather than sacrificing his niece. But it is too late as the Greek army had learned of the goddess wish and now demands Iphigenia’s sacrifice.

Achilles, who felt that he has been used as a prop in this ploy vows to defend Iphigenia but finds himself unable to do so when even the Myrmidons, who are under his personal command turn against him and narrowly escapes to be stoned. Director Charles Newell said that this play “is not just a play about power and sacrifice. It is also about family dysfunctionality and the price the kids pay as a result. As a child of a divorced family I have experienced that in my own life and in people around me, and I try to bring those experiences in directing this play” he told TNH.

Sandra Marquez delivers a passionate and powerful portrayal as Clytemnestra. Initially, she and her daughterIphigenia plead with Agamemnon to reverse course, but to no avail. Soon, Iphigenia sees the implausibility of the situation and asks Achilles not to intervene in a lost cause. “The daughter sees no way out, she must solve her father’s problem and proceed with the sacrifice” Newell said. Iphigenia quickly transitions to a heroine who is willing to be sacrificed ifthat will help bring victory to the Greek army. Did Agamemnon make the right choice? “I change daily on that answer,” the director said. It is a gut-wrenching decision for a father who is also commander-in-chief of the Greek army.”

This is the second time that Newell has directed the play. “This production is very different than the first production that was indoors in 2014. The text is the same but the design and staging is different, we have taken advantage of the theater’s architecture. Even the chorus is transformed, there is more singing than speaking since the space allows for that,” Newell told TNH.

Ralph Flores, Getty Senior Program Specialist, flew to Chicago to see the 2014 performance and that sealed the invite. He was taken aback “by the accessibility and straightforwardness of the production as well as powerful performances of the characters. I also felt that Nick’s translation was beautiful and very playable for actors,” Flores said.The Getty Villa is the ideal place to perform classical plays as the art in the galleries allows the modern audience to have a deeper connection to relate to the mythical stories. “I hope the play creates an emotional experience, and that the audience will connect the heroes’ lives in the play with their own,” Newell concluded.The performance overall conveys that emotional experience but two elements of the production worth commenting about. The costume designer’s choice of a “casual” contemporary style clothing, that is not what one would expect from a classical production portraying royals. Also, the mounts of black electrical cords onstage brought question marks, and even though at the end the purpose becomes clear the theatrical aesthetics did not match. But those elements do not take away from a fine overalltheatrical production that is worth experiencing.

Performances will be held Thursdays through Saturdays through September 30 at 8PM.

Next year’s performance will be another Euripides play, The Bacchae.

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