Meeting Her Fate

Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (A Rave Fable), Caridad Svich's unorthodox retelling of the Iphigenia myth, has received a stylish restaging by the experimental theater company One Year Lease. In bringing playwright Caridad Svich's demanding play—with its many characters and multimedia components—to visceral life, directors Ianthe Demos and Danny Bernardy create a tone poem for our blitzed-out, hyperkinetic, media-saturated age. But this production cannot escape the kitchen-sink syndrome that plagues the work itself: like the play's extra-long name, it tries to pack in so much that meaning and depth are sometimes derailed in the process.

In the Greek myth, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to propitiate the goddess Artemis, who had immobilized the Greek ships in a windless sea on their way to Troy. Agamemnon sends for Iphigenia on the pretense that she is to wed the warrior Achilles. When Iphigenia learns her fate, she at first begs for her life, but then changes her mind, resolving to die.

Inspired by Euripides's Iphigenia in Aulis, veteran playwright Svich transplants the myth to a modern netherworld of sex, death, and trance-inducing music, where she reimagines Iphigenia (Brina Stinehelfer) as the daughter of a dictator in an unnamed Latin American country. A news anchor (Nick Flint) reports that the death of the general's daughter would arouse the grief and sympathy he needs to win an upcoming election.

Iphigenia rebels by running off to a rave party, where she hooks up inexplicably with the androgynous rock star Achilles. Along the way, she encounters Violeta Imperial, a soothsaying chicken vendor who was tortured by her father's henchmen, and a chorus consisting of the shades of three of the Mexican factory girls raped and killed in the borderlands (played by masked male actors in drag).

One Year Lease, which has a reputation for high production values, does not disappoint. The rave party in the industrial wasteland at the city's outskirts is vividly rendered by set designer James Hunting with cinderblocks, sawdust, and metal steps and hanging rods. On three onstage TV screens, video engineer Brian Michael Thomas projects hyper-paced news clips and live streaming video that offer counterpoint and comment on the action.

Mike Riggs's inventive lighting, Kay Lee's exuberant costumes (Iphigenia's designer ball gown with its scooped-out miniskirt front is exquisite), and sound engineer David Chessman's pulsating techno music all add to the heady atmospherics of what the rave party's DJ describes as "this synthetic, hard-core fantasy we call a new century."

While sensory overload is the norm, the directors and their production team also appreciate the power of stillness. Thus they add a fascinating silent tableau of Iphigenia and her parents at the dinner table as a prelude. In some of the concluding scenes, after Iphigenia embraces her fate, the torrent of words, lights, and images tapers off and a still, softly lit landscape emerges where the TV screens reflect only the action itself onstage.

The cast deserves credit for maintaining its focus and poise amid the swirl. Stinehelfer captures the conflicting mix of naïveté, petulance, and fear that pulls Iphigenia in different directions. Susannah Malone is powerful both as the alcoholic, withholding mother and the apparition Violeta. The three male actors, playing multiple characters, are suitably creepy as the Mexican Fresa girls, while also excelling in their roles as Achilles (Danny Bernardy), the intrepid news anchor (Nick Flint), and the callous general (Gregory Waller).

One Year Lease, whose mission is to revive classic texts, took the cast and four designers to Greece for three weeks of rehearsal to soak up the country's culture and atmosphere. It's hard, given how far the work strays from the classical story, to assess what impact that strategy had on the results.

But one thing is clear: despite its excesses and occasional incoherence, Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart makes for an absorbing night of theater.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post