I do not know how to properly review junior Kathleen Gullion’s production of “Iphigenia 2.0” in part because I do not fully understand the play. The plot itself is simple enough: “2.0” is a modern adaptation of the Greek myth that shares its name, utilizing dance and other digressive elements to both break up and enhance the main story (in a fragmentary style I found similar to that of Bertolt Brecht). Knowing, too, that playwright Charles Mee focuses on gender politics and pop culture’s effects on society in his work helps one to understand why and where “2.0” deviates from its source material. At the very least, I can present to you my response to various elements, and in so doing perhaps we can both parse out what works and what does not.
The word I first think of in relation to Gullion’s “2.0” is contrast, for it is through contrast that the production is most impactful on its audience. The set is simple: three door frames (white) and four columns (also white) reminiscent of a Greek theatrical setting. The show begins with a monologue by Agamemnon (excellently orated by freshman Padraig Sullivan) explaining the importance of Iphigenia’s death to his soldiers’ victory in the Trojan War, but also his reluctance in sacrificing his daughter. From this first scene follows a very basic retelling of the myth. Clytemnestra (senior Rose Dolezal) attempts intervention by instigating a marriage between Iphigenia and Achilles (freshman Lee Foxall), but ultimately, Iphigenia (junior Sam Auch) discovers the plan and offers herself as sacrifice, aware of the importance of her “fate.”
Not having previously read the myth on which “2.0” is based, I was still able to predict fairly early on the trajectory of the plot, and the subsequent arguments on whether or not Iphigenia should live became plodding and repetitious. Occasionally, the audience would be treated to a scene between four soldiers and/ or the two girlfriends of Iphigenia, and though what they had to say had some bearing on the important events of the story, more often than not their scenes consisted of dancing and making merry. I really enjoyed the dynamics that these characters shared amongst one another, but the level of choreography and sheer fun in these scenes made the plot-dispensing ones pale in comparison.
This, I feel, is because of a lack of contrast. For me, the play quickly became one about the side characters because nothing in the “important” scenes stood out. Generally speaking, the acting of the lead characters was high-stakes and intense all the way throughout, leaving little room for character growth and relationship development. In particular, I remember the scene in which Clytemnestra seduced Achilles, convincing him to marry Iphigenia. The two punctuated the deal with an intimate dance that subtextually communicated the fluctuating power dynamic between them, but because both Dolezal and Foxall began the scene with such intensity, there was no room for it to build and the dance quickly grew tiresome.
Then again, this was all gleaned from an initial viewing. My visceral impression was one of frustration, convinced that the plot-driving scenes were overdramatic in order to compete with the more exciting dance sequences and other digressions. To a certain extent, I still argue for a starker contrast between the two types, hoping that a more toned-down exposition scene would underscore and yet stand equal to the more physical fragments. But in discussing the show with friends, I’m realizing that there’s more to Gullion’s 2.0 than meets the eye. First viewing, I thought that some of the gender politics came heavy-handedly and I was soon more interested in the story of the soldiers and the play’s thoughts on war. But in repeat viewings, details come out of the woodwork. Though I did not have the opportunity to see “2.0” again, I can easily imagine a repeat viewing offering subtleties missed during a first response.
This is what makes reviewing “Iphigenia 2.0” difficult. On a first viewing, I liked it well enough, but thought that the leads were over the top and that the ending could use some work. I absolutely loved the pacing and staging of both the washing and party/breakdown scenes, but there were enough boring moments to sour my overall opinion. Yet I am keenly aware of something missing from my perspective. Gullion is a fine, meticulous director, careful in the messages she communicates to her audiences: messages I am sure would be revealed in repeat viewings. Can one discredit their visceral first response if they’re aware of something greater the next time around? What value is there in a show that’s better the second time, yet the majority of its audience might only see once? I’ll be honest: I don’t know. But despite my initial misgivings, I’m inclined to review “Iphigenia 2.0” positively, because no matter how many times you’ve seen it, Gullion’s production produces discussion. I have never before seen an audience so spiritedly asking questions other than for clarification, and even with its faults, a play that gets audiences thinking is a damn good one in my playbook.