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Review by Karen D'Souza of The San Jose Mercury News, published June 27, 2001

Greek Tragedy Made Human in Berkeley
A production as powerful and primal as the myths that inspired it.

By Karen D'Souza
Mercury News

The Shotgun Players have scored a bull's eye with ''Iphigenia in Aulis.''

The ambitious Berkeley ensemble strikes at the beating heart of Euripides'
tragedy, dispersing the mists of pretension that often hang over this
ancient text. Director Patrick Dooley and his ensemble have set up camp in
an august stone amphitheater at John Hinkel Park that cries out for this
sort of epic ritual.

A sense of community was the soul of drama for the Greeks, for whom the
theater was a sacred place where society came together to sort out its
issues. That's the primal aesthetic Dooley has taken a stab at and come up
triumphant. He's hit on a production as raw and bold as the myths that
inspired it.

Actress Mary Eaton Fairfield delivers a powerhouse performance as the
ill-fated Clytemnestra, the queen of the doomed house of Atreus. It is she
who brings her daughter Iphigenia (Amaya Alonso Hallifax) to Troy, believing
her to be wed to Achilles. Alas, the gods have already spoken, and Agamemnon
(Jeff Elam) has decided to slit his child's throat rather than risk their

Fairfield and Elam stop the show in a pulse-pounding scene when Clytemnestra
and Agamemnon go head to head over who rules their decaying family. Both
actors conquer the unwieldy language of the play and portray their
characters as people, not archetypal figures.

Everyone but the main three characters wears a mask (designed by Michael
Frassinelli). This primitive bit of stagecraft allows Elam to go from
Agamemnon to Achilles in the blink of an eye. The real transformation occurs
on the inside, of course.

As Agamemnon, Elam comes across as weary and resigned, a regal man chained
by duty and fate. As Achilles, he's a macho glory hound with no doubts and
no weaknesses (that he knows of).

Watching Clytemnestra try to wrap Achilles around her finger is a sight to
behold. Both Fairfield and Elam wring every last drop of passion from the
scene. Their unwavering commitment to each moment is what drives this
elemental production. If some of the supporting players don't quite match
their subtlety, it hardly matters.

The director works magic with meager set pieces (a few gauzy drapes) and
props (large wooden poles are about all). His vision of the chorus is
straightforward but no less potent for its simplicity. The choral body
emerges as four women in masks who keen and chant as the story churns to its
grisly conclusion, which in turn sets off the cycle of violence that is
''The Oresteia.''

Instead of bathing the stage in special effects, Dooley spotlights the human
elements of the show, how the choices we make affect the world around us. In
the end, that's what these blood-soaked tales were to the Greeks, parables
about the nature of man. Cannibalism, incest and infanticide; that's just
the window-dressing.


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