Iphigenia and The Furies (on Taurian Land), written by Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho) and presented digitally by Theatre Passe Muraille, Saga Collectif, and Architect Theatre, seeks to teach an ancient Greek myth new tricks in a retelling for a different era.
Originally staged in 2019 by Saga Collectif at Aki Studio, where it won the Toronto Theatre Critics’ Award for Best New Canadian Play, it was supposed to re-open Passe Muraille’s physical doors in a completely new staging by director Jonathan Seinen. While a digital pivot was necessary in uncertain times, the assured production of the play is anything but uncertain.
In Iphigenia’s original incarnation, the title character of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris has escaped certain death at the hands of her father Agamemnon. The goddess Artemis performed a sacrificial swap at the altar, replacing her with a decoy animal before sweeping her off to live with the Taurians.
Years later, presiding over Artemis’ temple on Taurian land, Iphigenia desperately wishes to return to Greece. She finally gets her chance when the two new strangers she’s been told to sacrifice turn out to be long-lost connections from home.
Ho’s adaptation preserves the basic storyline, while weaving in themes of colonialism and cycles of violence. Depending on your interpretation, victims of marginalization and brutality either choose to perpetuate the cycle on each other, or are forced to by a larger, unseen “system” (the gods).
Iphigenia (a luminous Virgilia Griffith) mourns that her rescue from sacrifice has resulted in her presiding over the sacrifice of countless others. The nameless Chorus (Paula-Jean Prudat) resents the usurping of her place among her people by a more traditional heroine. Iphigenia’s brother Orestes is torn between the shame of temple-robbing and the pain of eternal torment from the Furies.
A modern take on the inevitability of the Greek tragedy, the play suggests a world where cycles are breakable, but not without difficulty. It asks why we can’t take turns playing the hero, finding power in demanding agency over our roles.
This isn’t simply a history lesson, however; the show is light on its feet, with snappy, contemporary dialogue and sprightly, self-aware performances by the cast. This Iphigenia has a bubble tea order, and calls her disastrous parents “Clem” (from Clytemnestra) and “Daddy Aggy.”
Some of these modern affectations are simply cute. Some are more meaningful, part of the show’s pointed commentary about the need to humanize people who seem foreign in place or time, instead of describing them in language that distances us from their experiences.
The digital presentation is beautifully and unobtrusively shot and edited (Steve Haining), making use of a variety of camera angles to emphasize facial expressions and character relationships.
At the beginning, we enter the theatre space from the outside with Prudat, who holds a glowing orb like a benediction. A high-angle shot shows off the long, dramatic vertical lines of the set (Christine Ting – Huan 挺欢 Urquhart), bringing to mind Grecian columns. Roaring waves and reverberating, dream-like sound effects (Heidi Chan) rumble pleasantly on headphones. The production feels intimate; I never forgot I was watching a play.
As Iphigenia, Griffith is both regal and sardonic, playing off Prudat’s seething-yet-bubbly sidekick who is equally enthralled and infuriated by her presence.
Kwaku Okyere and Nathaniel Hanula-James share a playful, easy chemistry as lovers Orestes and Pylades. Okyere’s Orestes has a penchant for tumbling and the unsteady, manic energy of a man driven by forces he can’t control. Initially loyal to a fault as Pylades, Hanula-James executes an impressive turn from carefree, fun-loving drama queen to passionate defender against stereotype. All in all, it’s a treat to watch the actors have a great time.
In the end, the bright surface humour of Iphegnia and The Furies (On Taurian Land) effectively serves to accentuate the surprising punch of pain hidden underneath.
Well, you know what they said about the Trojan horse: beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
- Iphigenia and The Furies (On Taurian Land) runs digitally until February 26th, 2022.
- Shows run Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30PM. The video is viewable for 36 hours after the start time of the requested performance.
- Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can-Afford ($5-25-50), and can be purchased online or by calling 416-504-7529.
- Viewing links will be sent via email.
- Each performance features different access initiatives; please see website for accessibility details.
- Content Warnings: Strong language and sexual content; not recommended for children under the age of 14.
Photo of Virgilia Griffith and Paula-Jean Prudat by Dahlia Katz