Can you adapt a Greek play and take out the gods? Perhaps, but not without ruffling them a bit. When Euripides invoked the names of Zeus and company, his audience knew their power. Charles Mee, too, knows his audience and its more agnostic tendencies. That’s why his General Agamemnon, instead of being called upon by Artemis to sacrifice his daughter, is now commanded to do so by his own troops. The soldiers ask for his daughter’s blood as a sign of proof that the war is one worthy of the deaths of thousands.
A timely twist indeed. But by putting the demands of the divine into the hands of mortals, Mee asks his audience to believe in a set of circumstances so extreme that without a god or two we are completely lost. And perhaps this is the central conflict of Iphigenia 2.0 — the absence of the all-knowing is a purposeful omission, pointing to the crux of a war devoid of ending or solution.
Mee and director Tina Landau have created an incredible theatrical landscape, weaving dance, pop music and poetry in a way that is at every moment purposeful and moving. And though a little gets lost in the translation from ancient Greece to present-day Iraq, the show is still an example of what contemporary theater should be: vibrant, current and irreplaceable by any other medium.
Though there are one or two uneven performances, they are made up for by the astonishing work of the chorus, comprised here of four infantrymen. J.D. Goldblatt, Will Fowler, Jimonn Cole and Jesse Hooker make up an electrifying ensemble, delivering an emotionally and physically demanding performance that portrays our ever-wavering moral center with fresh sensitivity.
Iphigenia 2.0 gets to the heart of wartime drama. As Euripides used the Trojan War to reflect the crumbling of his own Athens at the close of the Peloponnesian War, so does Charles Mee’s play beg Americans to find meaning in their current crisis. Agree or disagree with its premise, the play is an artful rendering of its audience, an America seeking the comfort of divine omnipotence, and, in its absence, pushing ahead as the proxy of one god or another.