Joseph J. Menino and Kelli Holsopple
Joseph J. Menino and Kelli Holsopple
Iphigenia at Aulis
(© Gerry Goodstein)
Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis, now being presented by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble at the Wild Project, explores the devastation of war on the most personal level. Yet at its height, this well-acted production transcends the formalities of Greek tragedy to bring home the universal message about the cost of war -- which is its greatest appeal to a modern audience.

At the play's opening, King Agamemnon (Joseph J. Menino) is agonizing over an oracle decreed from the Gods that demands the sacrifice of his oldest daughter, Iphigenia (Kelli Holsopple). It's a startling and unreasonable offer both to Agamemnon and to us, the audience.

There's no direct logic or sense of justice in the sacrifice except to show Agamemnon's commitment to the war. He first tries to send word to warn his family but reconsiders after an impassioned conversation with his brother, Menelaos (John Lenartz), who passionately reminds him of what's at stake.

When Agamemnon realizes the Gods must be obeyed in order for the ships at Aulis to sail to Troy and avenge Helen (Menelaos' wife), whose abduction sparked the Trojan War, the ominous force of fate sets in as the scenes unfold. Listening to Agamemnon explain to his wife, Clytemnestra (Elise Stone), why he must kill their child for the Gods is almost absurd -- highlighting the illogical nature of their absolute devotion to the Gods much like our modern extremists who shed innocent blood in the same name.

However, Agamemnon has a choice. He doesn't have to continue this war, which has been raging for three decades. He can decide that his family is more important, and that the lives of his soldiers and their families are more important than fighting a war whose goal is becoming increasingly blurred.

Director Amy Wagner stages the action on a beautiful set designed by Maruti Evans that lifts the actors above a thick layer of sand, creating a striking image that further illuminates this timeless play.