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Review by Erin Blackwell of SF Frontiers, published July 27, 2001

Spirit of Sacrifice

By Erin Blackwell
SF Frontiers

All Greek tragedies are not created equal. Those written by Euripides--the last of the Big Three playwrights (after Aeschylus and Sophocles)--are the most accessible to modern sensibilities. Even so, staging one of these lyrical melodramas is no piece of baklava. Patrick Dooley, the irrepressible artistic director of the Shotgun Players, has staged Iphigenia in Aulis (406 BC) with such elegance and chutzpah that to criticize the venture at all seems petty. The pleasure starts with Goatsong, a trio of onstage musicians: Daniel Bruno, Joshua Pollock and Andrea Weber (who doubles as choreographer). My only quibble: the $2 program contains the only available cast list.

In his staging, Dooley has made some stunningly traditionalist choices, which demonstrate the undying potency of primitive theatrical means. A reduced chorus of four wear masks, are simply dressed in lovely Greekwear (by Valera Coble) and do a good deal of dancing. (Joan Bernier, Hannah Evans, Naomi Stein and Valerie Weak also perform Joan McBrien's Curse of the House of Atreus, a vaudevillian curtain-raiser distilling the tragedy's back story.) The seven roles in Iphigenia are divided among three actors, Ancient Greekstyle, each of whom plays one role without a mask. Personally, I preferred the masked portrayals--possibly because Michael Frassinelli's masks are so fabulous. Something trippy and transcendental happens to an actor in a mask: she or he becomes less rational, less specific, more powerful and timeless. But it can be reassuring to see the vulnerability of a mortal actor's face, so this mix'n'match approach offers something for everyone.

The key family figures--Agamemnon (Jeffrey Elam), his wife Clytemnestra (Mary Eaton Fairfield), their daughter Iphigenia (Amaya Alonso-Hallifax)--are played without masks, accentuating their human frailty. As the general who must sacrifice his first-born child if the Greek army is to set sail for the Trojan War, Elam deploys a big voice and realistic manner. He's even better in a masked cameo as Achilles, an arrogant warrior whose heroism is firmly rooted in self-interest. Fairfield ranges from regal to shrewish as the matron who's unwittingly led her daughter to the altar to be slain, rather than married. She doubles convincingly as Menelaus, Helen's cuckolded husband. Hallifax is endearingly young as Iphigenia, whose sincere efforts to please her parents find final expression in a self-sacrifice free of ego. Her turns as the Old Man and the Messenger (who delivers the news of Iphigenia's ascension to Olympus) are strangely affecting.


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