Staging Greek drama in today’s theater is virtually impossible, except for JoAnne Akalaitis, for whom it is totally so. But then, she’s not much better at anything else. You have to hand it to her, though: Few have parlayed a greater lack of talent into such unlimited opportunities to evenhandedly ruin whatever they touch. This has nothing to do with Miss A.’s supposedly advanced, innovative approach, and everything to do with today’s lack of standards, whereby whatever is different is automatically saluted. You’d think it easy to distinguish between the good and the merely new (“Enter the Tour de France on a unicycle? How ingenious!”), but, alas, it no longer is.
Miss A. brings us The Iphigenia Cycle – i.e., Iphigenia at Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris, in that order. Euripides wrote Aulis some years later, independently from the earlier drama, but okay, why not advert to the order in which the story unfolds and combine the two works? Not if you have a tin ear and glass eyes. You begin by picking actors who have either no ability or no proper training, and pay no attention to their unsightliness. You make sure that a white daughter has a black mother, and that the Chorus is given stylized and synchronized movements, while the principals act naturalistically with no unifying principle. Then you choose a pedestrian translation (by Nicholas Rudall), and let everyone speak with whatever accents the multiethnic backgrounds provide.
You add a nonsensical set of dainty white bleachers (by Paul Steinberg) and the most asinine costumes (by Doey Luthi – some moniker!) one has seen in donkey’s years. Why, for example, would the Chorus wield candy-colored umbrellas opened for no visible or audible reason, and as arbitrarily laid aside? Why would Agamemnon sport the flimsiest of bathrobes over a Gap shirt and military pants and boots? Why would Clytemnestra, in a ghastly orange coatdress, drag a baby around the battlefield, especially if that baby is Orestes, who, in a few years’ time, will kill her to avenge his murdered father? Why would she stand by like a lump when outrage requires some kind of action?
Again, why would the zombified Achilles sport a Patrick Stewart unhairdo, a black rubber outfit with a football player’s pads and tight-fitting sheer black sleeves, and, as sole weapon, a nickel-plated croquet mallet? Why would Iphigenia be a dippy debutante, complete with slouch and singsong, a white sheath stressing her beanpolishness, and huge white bath shoes to give Manolo Blahnik nightmares? Why would Menelaos affect punk hair dyed platinum? Why would the bottom of those bleachers be outlined with fluorescent lights (by the usually fine Jennifer Tipton)? Why would the nondescript music of Bruce Odland turn to demented banging all through the intermission?
But this is only half of it; I left after Aulis. Minoan bulls couldn’t have dragged me back to Tauris, where, I’m told, things really went hog-wild. But even if Miss Akalaitis (whom her detractors unjustly call Alka Seltzer, a drug meant to settle, not turn, stomachs), had set things in a hall of mirrors, each with a lipstick-scrawled STOP ME BEFORE I KILL AGAIN!, nothing would deter the demented from rehiring her.