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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Charles Mee's Take on Iphigenia

How can it be the common good if what I do is so vile in itself? —Agamemnon

Troy Dunn and Marie-Francoise Theodore (Photo: Paul M. Rubenstein)
"If you speak of moral law, your own ministers say you can't ask them to send their sons to war, knowing without fail some of them will die, unless you prove your equal commitment to your goal and sacrifice one of your own children first," a soldier tells Agamemnon, the general who has assembled his troops to launch the Trojan War. The excuse is to rescue Helen, wife of his brother Menelaus, who was borne away by Paris, Prince of Troy. The spin is that she was kidnapped or seduced, burying the possibility that it was her choice. The troops, understandably, have seen through this and aren't sure this war is a good idea. A major PR move is needed if this war of acquisition is to go. Agamemnon sends for his daughter Iphigenia, supposedly to be married to the young hero Achilles. She arrives with her mother Clytemnestra and three teen-age bridesmaids.

Charles L. Mee updates this classic tragedy in a version which goes far beyond mere translation. It's the third in his tetrology, given stunning voice in City Garage's "Three by Mee"season, under the direction of Frederique Michel whol is an artistic director in the full sense of the world. Not only does she draw out the raw emotions painted by her characters and explore the nuances, she reinforces them with visual elements that make the City Garage's tiny space a miniature colosseum. Production Designer Charles A. Duncombe has designed small playing spaces on each side of the main stage, a boat used mostly to enclose women across stage rear and a pedestal bearing a woman's long white Victorian wedding gown, behind which female characters pose, keeping a feminine presence very much to the forefront. His lighting design is shadowed and unobtrusive, fulfilling its intention not to distract from the characters. The women's perceptively designed gowns highlight Josephine Poinsot's costume design.

Mee contemporizes his version with the soldiers' references to killing innocent victims in a Peugeot and being content with such small rewards as porn magazines, marijuana and corned beef hash. But his reworking goes far beyond the schoolgirl sexual fantasies of the bridesmaids and the luxury honeymoon spots enviously described by the soldiers. Although slowed by such sequences as George Washington's dinner party admonitions (some of which have remained grossly contemporary, alas!), most of the play works dramatically and reinforces Mee's reputation as a writer whose historical grasp permeates the present.

The play begins with a long somewhat didactic monologue by Agamemnon (Troy Dunn) about the materialistic causes of war. Dunn delivers this in an uninflected monotone which, though it lacks compelling dramatic emphasis, projects the impression of inner questions profoundly considered. As the play progresses, his performance deepens in agonized indecision, pain and ultimate rigid resolution. His qualms are reinforced by the appearance of his family.

Clytemnestra is given dignity and beauty by Marie-Francoise Theodore and Iphigenia is a creature of innocence, purity and delight as portrayed by Crystal Clark. Strong support is supplied by Bo Roberts as Menelaus and Sam Littlefield as Achilles.

Mee gives the ending a feminist voice as Iphigenia herself declares her sacrifice is what she was born to do, more fulfilling than working for a law firm, social work or improving the environment. The final tragedy is that, after she and her father leave the stage to execute the sacrifice, the soldiers and bridesmaids fall into a scene of rape and hedonism that, whether war or orgy, leaves us with a giant question mark about the validity of such a sacrifice.

Playwright: Charles L. Mee
Director: Frederique Michel
Cast: .Agamemnon (Troy Dunn), Iphigenia (Crystal Clark), Clytemnestra (Marie-Francoise Theodore), Achilles (Sam Littlefield), Menelaus (Bo Roberts), Soldiers (Ed Baccari, Maximiliano Molina, Kenneth Rudnick), Bridesmaids (Alexandra Fulton, Nita Mickley, Alisha Nicols)
Set and Lighting Design: Charles A. Duncombe
Costume Design: Josephine Poinsot
Running Time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: December 1, 2006-February 4, 2007.
Where: The City Garage, 1340-1/2 Fourth St. (alley), Santa Monica. Reservations: (310) 319-9939.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on January 14.
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