Scenes of violence, sailors, Achilles, a chariot, “a touch of the erotic” and all the flowing clothing you can handle are just some of the features of Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides, which the Classics Drama Group is producing starting January 31 at Nozhem.
The translator of this version of Iphigenia, Mary-Kay Gamal, will also be giving a talk about the play before the performance. She is a professor of Classics, Comparative Literature, and Theater Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Not only does she specialize in classic Greek, Roman, and medieval staging (producing over 20 classics herself), but she is also known for her feminist critique of Euripides (author of Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides).
Both the director of Iphigenia, Classics professor George Kovacs, and the play’s leading lady, Classics student Jocelyn Ruana, both mention how unique the character of Clytemnestra is in Euripides’ canon, as well as in Greek tragedy in general. “She’s been called the ancient equivalent of Lady Macbeth,” Jocelyn says. And George was quick to mention that Euripides is often criticized for being a misogynist but wrote some of the strongest female characters found at the time. Getting to play a strong female character is what drew Jocelyn to the role. She has been in the Classics Drama Group’s revivals for the past three years (now four) and this is the first time she has played a female character. The role of women in Greek society is a special interest of Jocelyn’s as well.
Clytemnestra is the mother of Iphigenia and together the mother and daughter comprise the only two female roles in the play as it’s written, but George has gender bent one of the minor roles. He is not a stickler for classic staging in this regard and says that he will cast anyone if he feels they fit the role. Apparently the actor in question was in the audition space by chance, since the Trent Muslim Society generously gave their space to the Classics Drama Group that week, and liked what was going on so much that she came back after her meeting to audition.
Last year the CDG put on Euripides’ Helen in the style of 1940s Hollywood. Kovacs did his PhD about Iphigenia in Aulis and recently delivered a paper about Iphigenia at a Classics conference hosted by Virginia’s Randolph College. “We let the text stand as the text,” he says, but some things cannot obviously be done as they were in Greek times. For instance, the cast is students and not under the time constraints in place by the festival of Dionysus. And Nozhem is not an outdoor amphitheatre that can facilitate a full horse drawn chariot. Even though Kovacs specializes in classic staging in his research, he is not expecting a classic rendition of the play but “an ancient feel” and “as ancient Greek as possible.” George says that putting on the Classics makes “performance a medium for studying the text.” His aforementioned conference paper is about how Iphigenia has 12 characters, not 13, a thesis that he gets to put into practice.
While the original is written in ancient Greek verse, the modern translation by Mary-Kay Gamel “occasionally uses contemporary language” while maintaining the verse. Jocelyn admits that the language “can be difficult,” with such tongue twisters as Achilles formal name, Son of the Sea Goddess Nereus.
The Classics Drama Group never disappoints, and Iphigenia will be no different. There are three performances scheduled for the Nozhem First People’s Performance Space (FPHL 101) in Enweying: Thursday, January 31 at 8 p.m.; Friday, February 1 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, February 2 at 3 p.m.; as well as one additional performance scheduled for the George Ignatief Theatre, Trinity College, University of Toronto on Friday, February 9 at 3 p.m.