Funny, touching, thought-provoking. This Iphigenia adaptation has it all
Before I go to a show, I try to stick to the tidbits of information someone might get when glancing around to make a decision. I don’t go in-depth into press releases and research. The whole point of Mooney on Theatre is to try to see shows the way someone who is not completely steeped in the theatre world would. This is one of the ways I do it.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected from Iphigenia and The Furies (On Taurian Land) presented by Saga Collectif, but I do know it wasn’t this piece full of laughter and joy. It was a delightful surprise.
Based on the blurb on the site and the promotional picture for this show I expected something serious. Something intense. Maybe filled with movement, something non-linear — I’m not entirely sure why those came to mind, they just did, gut feel I guess.
My show partner had his own expectations of intense seriousness. He comes from a world of non-theatre, and interestingly his expectations were of something didactic, suggesting perhaps something that felt like a historical lecture.
It was none of those things. It was an accessible, linear narrative and a show full of belly laughs.
But it was so much more than that. It was a touching exploration of relationships: relationship to home, family, loved ones, to loyalty; to the push and pull those create, and what and who people sacrifice, both literally and figuratively.
Iphigenia and The Furies (On Taurian Land) is a modern adaptation of IPHIGENIA AMONG THE TAURIANS by Euripides. In it, Iphigenia was supposed to be sacrificed by her father (ah, that Ancient Greek Theatre, amirite?) but was saved at the last minute and taken to live among the Taurians where she was appointed a priestess and must perform daily sacrifices. Things get interesting when two people she is meant to sacrifice turn out to be from the same city as her and she wants to use them to get a message back to her brother.
When I asked my show partner his overall impression, the first thing he said was that it was “very attractive, funny and catchy.” He could “hold onto the play through the whole thing. Every aspect. The comedy, the anger, the joy, the sadness. I could see every bit of it and experience it with them.”
I couldn’t agree more. Ho Ka Kei’s script is engaging, thoughtful and entertaining. It takes on the heady task of adapting and interpreting theatre and making it accessible and timely for a modern audience. The melding of contemporary language with pieces of Ancient Greek Theatre meant the piece felt plucked out of time to me, a bit otherworldly. As though it didn’t take place then, and it doesn’t take place now, and as a result, relates beautifully to both.
While the play pulls from Greek myth and Greek theatre, you don’t need to know anything about either to enjoy it. My show partner knew nothing of either and loved the piece and didn’t feel like he missed anything. When we were talking about it afterwards, I said that it feels more like if you have some background knowledge, there will be some ‘Easter Eggs’ or inside jokes for you. But nothing is lost if you don’t have the context.
The script was brought to life beautifully by fantastic acting from Virgilia Griffith (Iphigenia), PJ Prudat (Chorus), Augusto Bitter (Pylades) and Thomas Olajide (Orestes). I honestly don’t think I can single any one of these performers out. They were all excellent and managed a range of intense emotions without ever feeling like they were ‘mugging’. The comedic timing of each of them was bang on, as was the emotional vulnerability.
The world created in the script was expertly brought to the stage through a beautiful design. Visually, Christine Urquhart’s set was simple but striking. Stark white against black brought to mind pillars of ancient days. It was evocative, elegant, and worked perfectly. Her costumes and props fit the piece and players perfectly too. Jareth Li’s lighting was similarly elegantly executed. It effectively highlighted all the things it needed to and set the mood of the scenes, but was never distracting.
An incredibly evocative soundscape designed by Heidi Chan backed the entire piece. Chan performed the soundscape live onstage during the performance. While this sounds like it might be distracting, it was a wonderful addition. She was in the background, “inside” the temple. Once you noticed she was there, she blended in seamlessly.
Jonathan Seinen’s direction and Jay Northcott’s assistant direction brought these actors into this world and had them truly inhabit it. The whole piece was a joy to watch.
If I were to have a quibble, it would be a small one. It felt like there was a powerful theme of how people and societies step on each other for their own gain that wanted to be heard but wasn’t getting the space it deserved. The idea bookends the play, early on there is a line that got me right in the gut — Iphigenia (Virgilia Griffith) talks about how she now lives with the Taurians and lists what, when she lived in Greece, they used to call them. She says ‘all the names we use to strip humans from being human.’ I won’t tell you about the ending, but it stands tall there too.
But it felt like throughout the rest of the piece it was only allowed to peek its head out every once in a while. Like a bit of a tease with the word “colonialism” thrown out casually but it slips away. As though the thoughts are there, but get a bit lost. It felt like it really wanted to be heard and I wanted to hear it. I wish those ideas had been given a bit more breathing room. Ultimately it was okay though because the other parts were so great.
The show runs until January 20th, so you have another week and a bit to see this. I highly recommend it. It’s only an hour long, and what a wonderful hour it is.
I also love the staggered ticket pricing they are doing. I first encountered this with Why Not Theatre’s production of Prince Hamlet (I also happened to adore the show, but that’s a different story) and was so pleased to see it. Anyone who knows me knows that anything that makes theatre more accessible makes my heart sing.
- Iphigenia and The Furies (On Taurian Land) is playing until January 20, 2019 at Aki Studio (Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East)
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8PM and Sundays at Sunday at 2:30 PM
- Tickets prices are done on a PAY-WHAT-YOU-CAN AFFORD (PYWCA) basis. Tier 1 – $45, Tier 2 – $25, Tier 3 – $5
- Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-531-1402, or in person at the box office
Photo of Photo of Virgilia Griffith, Thomas Olajide, and Augusto Bitter by Dahlia Katz