For his farewell production as artistic director of Yale Repertory Theater for the past 11 seasons, Stan Wojewodski Jr. is giving audiences an opportunity to see Euripides’ rarely performed and ever-powerful Trojan War drama “Iphigeneia at Aulis” in Kenneth Cavander’s new translation/adaptation. An excellent decision in theory, it’s a disappointment in practice: Both the cast and director Rebecca Bayla Taichman are out of their depth. The result is a callow, prosaic production.
Of the racially mixed cast, only Ching Valdes-Aran gives a satisfying performance. She’s not a definitive Clytemestra (sic) by any means, but she has sufficient presence and style to suggest that this production might well be retitled “Clytemestra in Aulis.”
Princess Iphigeneia, the first child of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemestra, is not yet a woman when her father, stranded at Aulis with his Greek army, decides to sacrifice her to the goddess Artemis in order to gain the wind necessary for his soldiers to sail to Troy to rescue Helen. Director Taichman, a recent Yale School of Drama graduate, has Iphigeneia played by tiny Julyana Soelistyo as little more than a baby-voiced child.
This doesn’t work, particularly when Iphigeneia has to suddenly switch from begging her father for her life to announcing that she has decided it would be an honor to die for the sake of Greece. Among the other directorial missteps is the campy posed entrance of Achilles (Charles Parnell). Surely this character’s arrival shouldn’t bring forth a gust of laughter.
Taichman has prefaced the play with a dreamlike scene in which the leader of the Chorus is suspended, apparently asleep, high above the stage. Agamemnon’s boastful killing of a stag, which originally angered Artemis, appears to be re-enacted as large revolving fans on either side of the stage suggest the winds that are now absent. Taichman’s contribution continues with Agamemnon seated at a desk writing a letter. He tears up one version and eats it. This is not in Cavander’s script — which shouldn’t be judged on the basis of this production — and just seems silly.
The floor of Christine Jones’ set has a trough of water across its edge. The rear wall, which suggests a scientific diagram, is dominated by a vast exhaust fan, around which is lit, from time to time, a blood-red circle of neon. The central fan remains still until the very end when, upon Iphigeneia’s death, it begins to turn. The setting is impressive, but tends to dwarf actors already dwarfed by the play. Music, sometimes percussive, sometimes electronic, is used too often and sometimes fights the dialogue. The costumes are a mixture of ancient and modern with a strong tilt toward ancient Greece.
Throughout, Taichman has apparently been attempting a heightened sense of reality. Sadly, the result is quite the reverse.