Since ancient times, playwrights have examined the effects of war on family relationships. In the UW School of Drama’s latest production, “Iphigenia and Other Daughters”, familial obedience both divides and unites a group of siblings who have experienced the worst effects of armed conflict.
“Iphigenia and Other Daughters” is a modern adaptation of two plays by Euripides and one by Sophocles. Together, the three acts tell the story of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon’s children while examining the different effects of war and death on men and women.
Act 1 consists of Iphigenia (Tamsen Glaser) and her mother, Clytemnestra (Porscha Shaw), telling the story of Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis,” in which Iphigenia is sacrificed by her father. Glaser and Shaw both deliver strong, emotional performances that continue throughout the production, but since there is little on-stage action and no dialogue between the two characters, it moves a bit slowly.
The action picks up in Act 2 with the retelling of Sophocles’ “Electra.” The family dynamic is a bit confusing at first, but it becomes clearer as the characters interact. Electra (Jess Moss), is fascinated by the story of how Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon, and she obsessively digs graves for him in their garden as she awaits the return of her brother, Orestes (Skye Edwards). Electra’s sister, Chrysothemis (Hazel Lozano), remains cool, collected, and independent from the conflict between Electra and Clytemnestra, offering a less emotional but equally significant response to the war’s effects on their family.
The strongest part of the show is Act 3, adapted from Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Tauris.” Three swings come down from the ceiling, and Iphigenia is surrounded by women in white dresses who kill the men arriving at their temple. The reunion between Iphigenia and Orestes is beautifully portrayed by Glaser and Edwards, offering a look at the similarities and differences between obedience as a son and obedience as a daughter. The final scene of the play is particularly powerful, with both characters finding closure in completing one final task for the other.
The round stage in the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre is very effective for this production, particularly in Acts 1 and 3, in which the actors often make eye contact with the audience members and speak directly to them.
Pamela Dirnberger’s costumes, while reflecting each character’s personality well, seem to mix several time periods. Clytemnestra’s costume in Act 1, a beautiful rust-colored gown, contributes to her image of powerful femininity. The dirtiness of Electra’s costume seems a bit overdone, and the exaggerated difference between her appearance and those of Chrysothemis and Clytemnestra adds to the confusing family dynamic in Act 2.
The female-dominated show offers a feminist perspective on war and death, which one might not expect to find in an adaptation of ancient Greek plays. In Act 1, Iphigenia discusses her discomfort with being watched by the hundreds of soldiers around her, and the theme of the male gaze reappears in Act 3. Each daughter of Clytemnestra seems to fulfill a different role of women during war, with Chrysothemis remaining distant from the bloodshed, Electra going mad after the loss of her father and brother, and Clytemnestra acting cold and powerful. Iphigenia admires her mother’s ability to kill Agamemnon after her sacrifice, wondering aloud how she has stayed alive for so long because “no woman can afford to be that interesting.”
Though slow-moving in some parts, “Iphigenia and Other Daughters” tells a strong story of love and loss with a powerful resolution. The show runs through Sunday, Oct. 30, at the Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre.
The verdict: Birth, death, love, and war are combined in a dramatic family tragedy.
Reach writer Katie Anastas at email@example.com. Twitter: @KatieAnastas