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NY Theater Reviews

Kate Mulgrew and Louisa Krause/Ph: Richard Termine

CHAOTIC CLASSIC?

By Matt Windman

The names in Charles Mee's play Iphigenia 2.0 may sound familiar, but the play bears little resemblance to its classic predecessor

I like to take a Greek play, smash it to ruins, and then, atop the ruins, write a new play. The new play will often take some of the character names of the Greek piece, some of the story, even some of the ruined structure . But it will be set in the world today.

Such is the mantra of playwright Charles Mee, who has defined his career by defying the laws of intellectual property. Noting how the Greek dramatists and even Shakespeare would raid the plots and source materials of earlier writers, Mee's plays are created as collages, where bits and pieces of classic plays are infused with music, dance, electronic media and loose energy. It's Ancient Greece meets Richard Foreman meets Twyla Tharp!

Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company, which dedicates each of its seasons to the exploration of a single playwright, has unexpectedly gone avant-garde with Charles Mee, following a year dedicated to the profound but dramaturgically traditional works of the late August Wilson. Upcoming seasons will focus on the similarly alternative works of Susan-Lori Parks, Tony Kushner and the Negro Ensemble Company.

Iphigenia 2.0, the first of three Mee plays to be produced, marks the start of his Imperial Dreams Tetralogy, where Mee attempts to use the fall of the House of Atreus to explore the dichotomy between politics and family. Based on Euripides Iphigenia at Aulis, it follows the dilemmas of Agamemnon, who is forced to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before his troops set sail for Troy, much to the protestation of his wife Clytemnestra.

Though Mee's experimental theatrics are on full display, his re-appropriation of Greek history keeps the play grounded in terms of plot. The resulting work is occasionally sloppy, but just as often thrilling. Tina Landau's modern-dress staging is compulsively watchable, with outstanding performances by Kate Mulgrew as Clydemnestra and Tom Nelis as Agamemnon.