Iphigenia in Aulis

Court theatre
Iphigenia in Aulis

By Euripides

Translated by Nicholas Rudall

Directed by Charles Newell

Produced by Court Theatre

Court Theatre Resurrects Ancient Drama

Iphigenia in Aulis is the first of three ancient Greek tragedies Court Theatre will perform over the next three years. The others, written by the other two surviving tragedians, will together form a trilogy telling the story of the House of Atreus. It’s an ambitious project that will mainly be of interest to academics and die-hard theatre fans, but it’s off to a strong start.

 Mark L. Montgomery, Christopher Donaghue

Court begins its trilogy with the last of the three to be written, Euripides’s Iphigenia in Aulis, first performed after his death in 406 BC. Next year will be the earliest play, Agamemnon, by Aeschylus (died 456 BC), and two years from now, Electra, by Sophocles (also died 406 BC.) The story opens with Agamemnon (Mark Montgomery), king of Argos and commander of the Greeks, stalled in the port of Aulis. There’s no wind to take his warships to Troy, and an oracle has publically declared that the goddess Artemis demands Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon allowed himself to be persuaded and invited Iphigenia to Aulis under the pretext of marrying her to Achilles, but now has second thoughts.

His brother, Menelaus (Michael Huftile), whose wife the Greeks are fighting to retake, is angered that Agamemnon, alone among Greek families, is unwilling to make sacrifices for the greater purpose. Agamemnon’s slave (Christopher Donahue) sympathizes with the girl. When Iphigenia (Stephanie Andrea Barron) arrives with her mother Clytemnestra (Sandra Marquez), she is thrilled to marry a great hero. Achilles (Jordan Brown), upon learning from the slave how his reputation has been abused, is offended, and determined to protect her and his honor.

 Jordan Brown, Christopher Donaghue, Sandra Marquez

Montgomery’s Agamemnon is a proud, but deeply insecure man who starts the play in agony over his decision. But he, more than anyone, is conscious of the tens of thousands of soldiers who are determined to go to war, and will get their sacrifice one way or another. As their leader, he must follow them. Sandra Marquez’s Clytemnestra is brisk and to-the-point. She’s delighted at her daughter’s match, though miffed to be left out of the decision making. Stephanie Barron’s Iphigenia is childishly simple. That devotion makes her transformation at the end of the play believable, and all the more frightening. Jordan Brown’s Achilles has much more moral courage than his character is typically presented with. It’s hard to square this self-sacrificing genuine hero with the person in the Iliad, except for his dedication to the principle of a promise. The chorus, led by Adrienne Walker, provides the ritualistic tone of the show. They’re often funny, and Aristotle would be pleased with their contributions to spectacle and musicality.

Michael Huftile

Scott Davis’s set looks like the kind of stage you often find in school gyms. It’s all yellow brick, industrial lights and pipes, and ropes that look like a sacrificial animal’s guts. Jacqueline Firkins has provided the chorus with eye-catching blue dresses, while the soldiers wear dull uniforms, like the one that shows off Brown’s arms. The color symbolism of Clytemnestra’s red dress and Iphigenia’s white one isn’t subtle, but neither are their characters. Andre Pluess’s sound design includes an eerie musical undercurrent to the entire show that helps to carry it along when there isn’t much happening onstage.

Company founder Nicholas Rudall’s translation makes the story clear, but he insists it’s not an adaptation, and it includes many things that service scholarly interest more than drama. I really don’t care about the name of the river, or who grew up on which mountain. The same information is repeated many times, which could provide clarity or a recurring motif, but also gets annoying. Newell’s solution is always to have a character start running offstage, and then be stopped and have to come back several times. However, the staging of the last ten minutes is worth sitting through the earlier annoying moments. The show’s moral, that slitting a child’s throat on an altar sounds like a demonic command but really is no different than sending any kids off to war, is one you’ve probably heard before. But it helps to hear it again.


Jacob Davis
[email protected]

Reviewed November 15, 2014

For more information, see Iphigenia in Aulis’s page at Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago. Call 773-753-4472 or visit Runs through December 7; Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 3:00 and 8:00 pm, Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $45-65.

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