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Review by Karen Ahn for Urban View, published July 3, 2001

Orestes' Development
The Shotgun Players presents Euripides' "Iphigenia in Aulis".

By Karen Ahn

Pity the poor Greek father. Agamemnon, commander of the Greek Fleet, cannot
attack Troy due to ill conditions. The local oracle tells him that to
command a fair wind for the Greek ships he must sacrifice his daughter
Iphigenia. Geez - I know I will never complain about the Bay Bridge toll

"Iphigenia in Aulis," presented by the Shotgun Players at John Hinkel Park,
begins wonderfully and improves steadily. The prologue, a deftly worked
piece of slapstick with Preston Sturges timing, acquaints us with the cycle
of incest, fratricide, and cannibalism that leads us to Agamemnon's
situation, set during the Trojan War. The consuming tragedy of what follows
is all the more chilling. Written half a century after Aeschylus' "The
Oresteia," Euripides' "Iphigenia" is the prelude that sets all the wheels of
revenge, tragedy, and killing in motion. (In "The Oresteia," Agamemnon
returns home only to be murdered by his wife in revenge for Iphigenia's
death; later, their son Orestes murders his mother to avenge his father.)

Torn between his country and his family, Agamemnon varies between bombast
and blunder as he firsts sends for his wife, Clytemnestra, and Iphigenia
under the guise of the latter's marriage to Achilles, and then changes his
mind, only to have Menelaus, Helen's husband, commandeer his orders.

In the dual role of Agamemnon/Achilles, Jeff Elam is uneven. As Agamemnon,
he seems filled with harried anxiety rather than the gravitas his terrible
decision should inspire. He can also fall into the dreaded Helen Hunt school
of eyebrow emoting, using forehead manipulation as a substitute for realized
emotion. As Achilles, however, he shines, playing the famed warrior's
braggadocio with a comic, brassy edge, while palpably demonstrating the
courage that made Achilles the most feared warrior of his time.

As Clytemnestra (and Menelaus), Mary Eaton Fairfield is the emotional heart
of the play, even more so than Iphigenia. Her wonderfully calibrated voice
and full-throttled emotion communicate to the farthest row of the
amphitheater the terror and anger of a mother faced with the unacceptable.
The production's pacing and impact pick up noticeably whenever she is
onstage, which is, fortunately, most of the time. During the climactic final
moments of the play, even the birds and barking dogs in John Hinkel park
seem to go quiet when she speaks. Amaya Alonso Hallifax as Iphigenia is the
embodiment of pure-hearted bravery. With a Romanesque face and sweet
solemnity, she moves believably from terror at the impossible to acceptance
of the improbable. The staging of the last few minutes of the play did sort
of make me feel as if we had a case of theater interruptus, since many of
the actor's speeches were delivered to the back of the stage rather than at
the audience.

The orgiastic beauty and terror of ancient Greek life are well communicated
by the chorus/dancers. The simple costumes and music emphasize the stark
themes of the play. Achilles says to Iphigenia, "You make a virtue out of
necessity." Working on a shoestring budget but with some virtuoso talent,
that could well be the theme of the Shotgun Players' production as well.

-Karen Ahn

Karen Ahn is a freelance writer in the Bay Area. Contact her at


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