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Dramatic Arts Society's New Take on Tragedy

Jackson Boren, May 29, 2008
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On May 25 the Pacific Union College Dramatic Arts Society brought its annual full-length production to the stage after nearly two months of rigorous preparation and rehearsal. This year, directors Mei Ann Teo and Heather Denton brought their interpretation of Charles Mee’s Iphigenia 2.0 to life with a cast of 25 actors, including student, faculty and alumni. Mee, a survivor of polio, wrote Iphigenia 2.0 from his wheelchair and gave it his trademark of intense physical demands on the actors and a thematic pulse that always rests at the edge of chaos.

The play was inspired by Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, but has been reinterpreted to dress the ancient tale in the context of a modern wartime reality. Teo says, “The story of Iphigenia at Aulisis one of the most brutal of the Greeks. This brutality comes from the reality we know today of the deaths of innocents ordered by bureaucrats — but takes it to the ultimate sacrifice of one's daughter.”

As the story unfolds, the audience sees King Agamemnon (Zach Dunn) forced to make a decision, which holds the fate of his nation’s army and the life of his own daughter, Iphigenia, in the balance. The play depicts what follows as Agamemnon draws his wife, Clytemnestra (Cambria Wheeler), his brother, Menelaus (Jackson Boren), Iphigenia (Juliana Dalotto) and the warrior Achilles (Jonathan Garza), into his descent into madness that can only end in a wedding or war.

Professor Linda Gill, who plays a bridesmaid, said, “Iphigenia 2.0 is a play that reveals the lies we tell ourselves in order to go to war.” The play ultimately tackles the question of what kind of sacrifice is justified in regards to the greater good of a nation. It examines the ways in which democratic leaders are both supported and criticized. Dalotto says, “It seems every nation has faced the same problem of restraining the power of its leaders, congress or no congress. The play uses this struggle to ask how far one would go, on principle, for what is better for the common good — and in this case, for a taste of democracy.”

Performed in the PUC outdoor amphitheater, the show’s theatrics went beyond the traditional structure of a Greek tragedy, incorporating elements of pop and hip hop into the mix as well. Much of the play’s action centers around the soldiers and bridesmaids as they interact in the shadow of Iphigenia’s pending doom. Professor Greg Schneider, who plays the Greek Man, said, “I was impressed with the almost over-the-top vitality and sense of fun combined with such serious talent and dedication — and with such grim subject matter.” 

An extensive series of detailed set pieces was created by production designer Kristen Adams, whose work can also be seen in the recent Wong Kar Wei film My Blueberry Nights and onSaturday Night Live. Adams’ detailed balance of décor captured the juxtaposition of the play’s various themes.

After several well-received shows, Iphigenia 2.0 has proven to be a worthy addition to DAS’s continued string of successful productions. Teo states, “In this production, I feel that we made huge leaps in terms of tackling a collage play, and being able to handle the strange and complex emotions demanded by the text through a sophisticated level of physicality never achieved before in performance.”

For those interested in seeing the DAS production of Iphigenia 2.0, there are still two performances left, one on Thursday, May 29, and one on Sunday, June 1. Both shows start at 4 p.m. and are $7 for general admission (Thursday show is $5 for students). For more information, call (707) 965-7020.