Imagine that if, in order to fight a war, the leader advocating such a course had to sacrifice something he cherishes as much as the soldiers do their lives. Say, one of the leader’s children.
This would be bad news for President Obama’s girls and the Romney boys, since one of those men is currently waging war and the other is itching to invade Iran if he gets the presidency.
The morality of war and the craven nature of leadership are on display, in Iphigenia 2.0. This intensely theatrical production is now at the Cleveland Public Theatre, a cooperative effort of CPT and Oberlin College,
The script by Charles Mee offers a giddy mash-up of various texts—starting with Euripedes and moving on to many other sources including a corporate training manual.
Staged with entertaining, sinewy energy by director Matthew Wright, the production slaloms smoothly through the many narrative wickets established by the playwright. Employing calisthenics, dance sequences and some music of fairly recent vintage (such as the Backstreet Boys’ “Playing Games with My Heart”), the events happen simultaneously in Agamemnon’s world and in our own right now.
In this contemporized telling, kingpin Ag is confronted by his brother Menelaus and challenged to sacrifice Iphigenia, Ag’s daughter, so that the troops will see that their leader is willing to suffer grievous loss, as they are asked to do.
Eventually, Ag reluctantly agrees and invites Iphigenia and his unsuspecting wife Clytemnestra to Aulis so that Iphigenia can marry war hero Achilles (Aaron Profumo). But it’s all a ruse.
Heather Anderson Boll has the juiciest role as tortured Clytemnestra, and she rages and grieves (and comes on to Achilles, in a ploy to save her daughter) with unbridled effusiveness. As Agamemnon, Tom Woodward is more emotionally confined and is essentially used to carry the plot and little else.
Nicholas Sweeney offers a strong turn as Menelaus and Andrew Gombas, as a guitar-strumming veteran, brackets the play with small, memorable vignettes. The soldiers and bridesmaids, all of whom are Oberlin students, are put through some demanding physical paces by Wright and never slack off.
Played on an arresting, photo-bedecked set designed by Inda Blatch-Geib, the 95-minute one act compels attention, even when Mee’s adventurous script wanders off into the weeds at times.
At the center, of course, is Iphigenia, played with touching innocence by Marina Shay. It is hard to watch her mortal decision and not think of the warriors who fight under our banner. Wars demand young soldiers who are both selfless and naïve, ready to sacrifice for ideals that their leaders are prepared to give lip service to, and little else of a personal nature.
Through April 28 at the Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, 216-631-2727.