“What gods?” asks the devastated Clytemnestra after the sacrifice of her first-born daughter Iphigenia, in The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective’s Fringe adaptation of Iphigenia at Aulis. The ancient tale from the Trojan War, recounted by Euripedes circa 406 BC (and using the translation by Florence M. Stawell for the current production), raises universal, and often conflicting, issues about love, loyalty, and devotion to family, homeland, and religion, as the bloody deed – acceded to by the victim’s torn father Agamemnon – appeases the deities and delivers the winds needed to launch the Greeks’ fleet, in their quest to return the abducted Helen to King Menelaus (her husband and Agamemnon’s brother).
Presented in collaboration with the Independence Seaport Museum and staged inside the USS Olympia, Director Dan Hodge is clear in his retelling of the complex tragedy, putting our focus, in the close space, on the intimate family drama that pits brother against brother, husband against wife, father against daughter, and kin against country. The cast represents an array of emotions, from the quiet introspective turmoil of Nathan Foley’s Agamemnon, who wrings his hands, works his fingers, and suffers in distraught and pensive silence; to the combative rage of Luke Moyer’s Menelaus, confronting his brother after attacking the Messenger (played by Adam Howard) called upon to deliver the letter reneging on his promise to make an offering of his daughter; Tai Verley’s Clytemnestra, who rails against the brutal plan and her complicit husband; Gregory Isaac’s heroic Achilles, who pledges on his honor to fight for the young woman against the will of the Greek army; and Becca Khalil’s young and innocent Iphigenia, at first begging for her life, then naïvely smiling and nodding as she embraces her lot and gives herself willingly in the service of her people.
Stephanie Iozzia and Peggy Smith as the Chorus sit on either side of the performance area, literally sewing, singing, and humming the foreboding tone of the doleful tale in a cappella renditions of traditional American folk songs and church hymns (including “A Dying Sailor to His Shipmate” and “Down in the Valley”). The lyrics generally relate to the story’s timeless themes and the selection of music is in keeping with the era of the 1890s ship, as are the characters’ turn-of-the-century costumes, designed by Robin Shane. With its resetting of the age-old story of Iphigenia at Aulis to more recent times, The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective underscores the relevance of its moral dilemmas and human struggles for all times.
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.
Iphigenia at Aulis plays through Friday, September 22, 2017, at the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective, performing at the USS Olympia – 301 South Christopher Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.