Chorus: Jasmine Curry, Carley Dubicki, Cari Kosins, Karen Sackman, Jill Vinci.
The Trojan War from the sidelines is the view taken by Ellen McLaughlin’s compelling “Iphigenia and Other Daughters,” an interpretation of classic Greek tragedy as seen and lived by women on the margins of history’s grand sweep.
McLaughlin, best known for hovering over Broadway as the angel in “Angels in America,” has, for the most part, followed through on an intriguing notion: She has adapted two tales told by Euripides (“Iphigenia in Aulis” and “Iphigenia in Tauris”) and one by Sophocles (“Electra”) by focusing almost entirely on the plays’ female characters.
Without being overly schematic, McLaughlin gives each of these familiar women a particular point of view on the troubles plaguing the House of Atreus. Clytemnestra (Kathleen Chalfant) is the tough fatalist, convinced of her role in history. Electra (Sheila Tousey) is obsessed to the point of madness with justice, even if it’s achieved indirectly. And Chrysothemis (Deborah Hedwall), appearing here in a Barbie Doll frock and a suburban housewife’s hairdo, is the nagging voice of insecurity, resigned to her belief that she and her sisters remain “at the edge of importance.”
The familiar tale, beginning with the sacrificing of the virginal Iphigenia that begins the bloody spiral, is given resonance by McLaughlin’s stylistic liberties. Modern parlance is used to mostly good effect, despite the occasional misfires (references to Jello and Ritz crackers come off as silly and superfluous). David Esbjornson directs with the appropriate flourish even if the odd touch (frozen and slow-motion action, for example) seems self-conscious.
If the play is too talky — particularly in the first and third sections, focusing on Iphigenia — at least McLaughlin infuses the talk with a keen intelligence. She’s not so successful at pacing, though, and the play’s second section (concerning Electra) outshines the rest.
That, in part, is thanks to the vibrant performance by Tousey as the mad Electra. Circling the stage with a manic fierceness, Tousey brings the play’s talk to vivid life. Rest of the cast, particularly Hedwall and Chalfant, is as good in less showy roles. Only exception is Seth Gilliam as the play’s sole man: Hisunconvincing Orestes is no match for the women who, at long last, take center stage.