There are perhaps few genres more likely to fill contemporary theatergoers with the fear of dozing off mid-play than the dreaded Greek Tragedy, that is unless the company putting on the show is Chicago’s Court Theater, in town this month to resuscitate the 2400-year-old Iphigenia In Aulis to spellbinding, gut-punching effect at Malibu’s Getty Villa.

It helps that the tale Euripides had to tell back in 405 BC is one as old as the Greek gods, the story of a father ordered to do the unthinkable, to put his beloved child to death.

The dad in question is military commander Agamemnon (Mark Montgomery), informed in no uncertain terms by the goddess Artemis that only by sacrificing his eldest daughter Iphigenia (Stephanie Andrea Barron) will the winds once again begin to blow, thereby allowing his becalmed fleet to sail from Aulis and do battle against Troy.

The announcement of Iphigenia’s fake betrothal to Greek warrior Achilles (Acquah Kwame Dansoh) seems a clever ruse to bring the fair maiden to Aulis, that is until who should show up by her daughter’s side but Clytemnestra (Sandra Marquez), none too pleased to discover there’s to be no wedding, nor is Achilles any more thrilled about being jerked around.

And so Agamemnon finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place, forced to choose between family and country and either way suffer the fatal consequences.

Even the Court Theatre’s much lauded Iphigenia In Aulis can’t completely escape the expository speechifying that comes with Greek Tragedy territory. Still, there’s a surprising amount of honest-to-goodness snappy patter in Nicholas Rudall’s refreshingly modern sounding new translation, particularly when Agamemnon and the elderly servant known only as “Old Man” (Jim Ortlieb) get to gabbing.

Under Charles Newell’s inspired direction, a gifted ensemble, most of them reprising roles originated in Chicago, breathe fire into Euripides dramatis personae, in particular Montgomery’s heroic, deeply conflicted Agamemnon and Marquez’s raging cauldron of a Clytemnestra, with supporting kudos due Michael Huftile’s suitably two-faced Menelaus, Barron’s radiant Iphigenia, and L.A. cast additions Ortlieb (a droll delight as Old Man) and Dansoh (as terrific an Achilles as he is ready for his Men’s Physique cover shoot).

As for the obligatory Greek Chorus, rarely has one been more stunningly brought to life than by Bethany Thomas, Emjoy Gavino, Jeanne T. Arrigo, Jess Godwin, and Tracy Walsh, looking ready for Oscar night in costume designer Jacqueline Firkins’ striking dark blue satin gowns while harmonizing a cappella (with a soaring Thomas singing lead) to Andre Pleuss’s haunting original melodies and executing Walsh’s graceful, evocative choreography.

Iphigenia In Aulis’s transfer west from Chicago allows audiences to experience the Court Theatre production in the Getty Villa’s gorgeous outdoor Barbara And Lawrence Fleishman (amphi)Theater, though I for one don’t know what to make of the mini-mountains of electric cable that scenic designer Scott Davis has strewn around the bases of several of the dozen or so pillars surrounding an otherwise bare stage.

There can be no confusion whatsoever about Firkins’s costumes, runway glamour for the ladies (Clytemnestra in blood red, Iphigenia in virginal white), battle-stained for the men; or about (respectively) Pluess and John Culbert for sound and lighting designs that up the drama and suspense every step of the way.

Amanda Weener-Frederick is production stage manager and Kate Ocker is assistant stage manager. Marc Stubblefield is associate lighting designer and Sarah Ramos is associate sound designer.  Glenn Stanton and Emile Doenng are understudies.

You don’t have to be a Greek Tragedy fan to find yourself swept away by the Court Theater’s Iphigenia In Aulis at the Getty Villa. Indeed, even confirmed GT-haters may find themselves mesmerized and moved.

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Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater, The Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades.

–Steven Stanley
September 6, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz

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