at City Garage
In a 2004 interview, Charles L. Mee was asked about the sprawling, messy nature of his plays and the jagged narratives inherent in his discordant dialogue. He admitted creating plays that are "not too neat, too finished, too presentable. That feels like life to me. Then I like to put this chaotic stuff into a classical form." This is what makes Mee one of the bravest, one of the most important—and surely the most misunderstood—playwrights of our time.
As is typical with Mee, this adaptation of Euripides' classic puts its actors in a hazy place; without updating the well-worn tale, references skip though time as easily as in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Iphigenia (Crystal Clark) is still in danger of execution at the hands of her father, Agamemnon (Troy Dunn), but her bridesmaids are blond bimbos prattling on about bridal showers at the Beverly Wilshire. The text continuously goes from familiar Greek tragedy to talk of bootleg movies, one-minute makeovers, Lindsay Lohan, and the Chicken Dance, suggesting that politics and wars today are as reprehensible as they were in 400 B.C.
Director Frederíque Michel is a perfect choice to interpret Mee's literary delirium, filling the stage with outlandish visual spectacle on Charles A. Duncombe's starkly effective set. Michel's inspired vision is made more accessible by the devoted work of most of her cast. Clark is revelatory as the title character, Marie-Francoise Theodore is heartbreaking as Clytemnestra, Sam Littlefield is a gentle showstopper as the potential bridegroom, and the ensemble of bimbo Barbies and soldiers are right with the program. The only Achilles' heel—Greek pun hopefully excused—of this fine production is Dunn, whose Agamemnon is all technique and no substance, moving in an angular, exaggerated physicality with facial expressions and vocal trilling to match. The playing of this rich material is an actor's dream, but interpreting Mee must be approached with extraordinary emotional commitment. Dialogue must be allowed to resonate with big, fervent, expressive truths while remaining fully invested and honest. In the case of this one pivotal performance, honesty is not only missing, it's nonexistent.
Presented by and at City Garage, 1340-1/2 Fourth St. Alley, Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 5:30 p.m. (Dark Dec. 18-Jan. 11.) Dec. 1-Feb. 4. (310) 319-9939. www.citygarage.org.
Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder