This season, New York theatre has had a taste for tragedy, whether classical (the Broadway revival of Electra), neoclassic (Phedre and Brittanicus at the Brooklyn Academy of Music--see "The best of Britain," page 62), or postmodern (a new version of Oedipus staged Off Broadway). None of them was more controversial than The Iphigenia Cycle, produced by Theatre for a New Audience at the American Play Theatre. This pairing of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis with his Iphigenia in Tauris earned sharply negative reviews from critics but nevertheless had a distinctive look that was perfectly in tune with the intentions of director Joanne Akalaitis.
Iphigenia at Aulis (pictured) tells what happens when Agamemnon realizes that he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods, to allow his fleet to invade Troy. The second play takes place years later when Iphigenia, who was saved from death and placed by the gods in Tauris, is reunited with Orestes, her brother. According to LD Jennifer Tipton, Akalaitis' directorial concept took note of the play's strong differences. "She said that Iphigenia in Aulis is very grand, monumental, whereas Iphigenia in Tauris--well, she even said, 'Euripides wrote such a goofy play.' " Thus the first half had a rather elevated quality, while the second half was far more furious, with the steps of Paul Steinberg's setting drenched in blood.
The basic elements of Steinberg's sets included the steps, a sky cyc (with some dramatic clouds) and an acid-yellow deck. "I love the floor," says Tipton. "I used the color of it (Lee 138) in the PARs overhead. There's a specific effort to emphasize the floor on occasion." In fact, the light bouncing off the deck cast a yellow tint on the steps and, sometimes, on the actors' costumes; in the second half, particularly, the LD used Lee 118 Light Blue to transform the floor. During certain intense moments ("mostly when the characters spoke of dreams and dreaming"), a flood of blue downlight would transform the deck, then disappear, the withdrawal of color making for a shocking transition.
In the second half, Steinberg added a corrugated metal wall to the set. Tipton worked with it: "I used the abrasiveness of the wall's reflection to be abrasive, on occasion." At other moments, she used Rosco 26, a touch of red that gave the wall an iridescent quality. Other notable touches included a row of fluorescent fixtures, which helped underscore the production's very contemporary tone, and the shimmer of reflected water from an onstage pool on the ceiling above. Tipton's lighting subtly magnified the plays' larger-than-life qualities, shaping mood and intensity without calling attention to itself.
Tipton says she loves working with Akalaitis: "It's really great, because she leaves the light to me and yet she says a lot that will shape my ideas about it. It's so nice to have a director with a strong point of view, who will tweak my ideas and make me think of them in a new way." Interestingly, although the director and designer first collaborated on this production at Chicago's Court Theatre in 1987, Tipton says her design has not changed since then. "I'm one who really pays tribute to the young me, shall we say. Even when it's a dance I lit many years ago, I respect the ideas of that person--I don't quite know how to change them."
The Iphigenia Cycle was controlled by an ETC Obsession console; much of the plot consisted of ETC Source Fours. Lighting equipment was supplied by Production Arts. The Iphigenia Cycle ran through February 14.