Last Friday night, the doors of the Performing Arts Theatre were opened to audiences, kicking off a two-week run of Iphigenia 2.0.
Written by Charles Mee, the play brings into question the sacrifice that soldiers face when going into battle, and argues that the leaders who decide to take their country to war are obligated to make that sacrifice first.
“It’s called Iphigenia 2.0; it’s [Charles Mee’s] revisiting of Iphigenia at Aulis,” director and professor Tom Whitaker said. “Sometimes we can think of Greek tragedy as something very removed, very stuffy or historical — and I think this play is very much ‘now.’”
Part of that revisiting involves giving a voice to the soldiers who are about to embark for Troy, and diminishing the role that the gods play in human affairs.
“The basic difference between this and Iphigenia at Aulis is that [in the original,] he gods get upset with Agamemnon and say they will not provide wind to Troy,” Whitaker said.
Instead of using the gods to inform the audience and characters, a chorus of soldiers stand as the representatives of the people — the ones who potentially face the ultimate loss.
“The soldiers are a chorus, and just like in traditional Greek drama, the chorus comes out of the citizenry,” Whitaker said. “They are citizens who are part of the military, but it’s the voice of the citizens through the soldiers.”
Without the scapegoat of a pantheon, the humans in this world must contemplate their destinies or fates on their own terms, launching the actions of the characters even more into our own time.
“We don’t think, necessarily, of fate or destiny being a modern thing. We think of it being a Greek thing, but we all have the sense in our lives that we are destined to deal with a certain problem, so I don’t think that is removed from our civilization,” Whitaker said. “Your duty is not always your immediate personal emotional reaction.”
Mee uses this classic tale, in many ways, to examine power and draw connections between the past and present. There are references to wars throughout history, and the ability of any given empire to maintain itself is constantly questioned.
“I think that the play itself is a kind of warning… Where are we heading with our country?” Whitaker said.
Comparisons play a big role in this production. Although this is a tragedy, there are many light or even joyous moments. Song and dance break into fighting, a wedding becomes a funeral and characters who assumed they were summoned for one reason discover that are ulterior motives abound.
“We started out with the whole idea of contrast and juxtaposition… We’ve got sand and sandbags and uniforms, but then what happens when Clytemnestra comes on in a high-fashion dress, or if these bridesmaids are the ‘ultimate bridesmaids’ in their pink costumes? You’ll get something very serious and almost shattering, then something lighthearted,” Whitaker said. “And these characters are always being faced with these contradictions.”
Contrast is a fact of the world in which this show exists. The contradictions that the characters face on stage must also be contemplated by the audience, who experience the show much like a jury during testimony.
“Yes, it’s a tragedy but it’s also a sensuous journey that you go on. Hopefully, it should be a mixture of all kinds of emotions,” Whitaker said. “Even in tragedy, if it’s well done, there’s a kind of strange joy.”
Iphigenia 2.0 has four remaining shows: today through May 22 at 8 p.m. and May 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets, available at the Theater & Dance Ticket Office, or online at www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu, are $13 for students, seniors and faculty, $17 for general admission.