At one crucial juncture of "Iphigenia 2.0," the 2007 Charles Mee mashup of the Greek tragedy by Euripides, Agamemnon finds himself in an awkward conversation with his wife, Clytemnestra, a tough cookie who has not taken kindly to her husband's notion that he murder his own daughter.
Agamemnon has his reasons, of course, but that doesn't make it easy for the general. "It's taken me apart," he says of his impending sacrifice. "I'm not to be trusted by anyone anymore."
You know, you can be doing Iphigenia 1.0, 2.0 or 12,000.0, and you can do all the trendy physical movement you want, all the savvy deconstruction, the multimedia flash, the clever parallels between war then and now, but if that admission, an agonizing one for a military man at any point in human history, does not cost Agamemnon anything palpable to make, then it's all just noise and clatter.
That moment crystallizes the fundamental problem of director David Kersnar's ill-conceived, headache-inducing production of this 80-minute drama, which offers its audience little beyond a lively young ensemble. Aaron Todd Douglas, looking mighty uncomfortable in his role opposite Laura T. Fisher's Clytemnestra, blows past this, and other crucial junctures, wherein we might actually feel something for the personages of this drama.
It's certainly true that Mee's intent is partly satirical, although whether such an approach in any way deepens our understanding of Euripides is debatable. And he conceived Iphigenia (Rebecca Buller) to be an ordinary contemporary bride, just as her bridesmaids are party girls and the soldiers who work for Agamemnon aggressive repositories of testosterone. But that's in service of sharp contrast, an authorial desire to reveal that a story we think of as grandiose and removed is, just as much, a personal and domestic tragedy.
The wilder aspects of this piece, with its comedy and cavorting, are supposed to throw the timeless cruelty that flows from uncertainty and woolly belief into sharp relief. But in this production of the drama oft-produced on campuses (even though it's far from Mee's best work and has dated fast), those contrasts all melt into the same, out-of-control show, as shrill and ill-focused a piece as Next, whose highs and lows can be dizzying, has produced in recent seasons.
Kersnar stages this piece with intensely realized, stylized movement, all rendered courtesy of an adroit, hard-working ensemble. But interesting as that can be (and it is well-executed), the crippling problem is that it all seems to fall in service of that which we already know. We grasp the nature of these soldiers in the first five minutes; just as do Iphy and her sidekicks. All that they do subsequent to that just emphasizes the same character traits over and over. To put that another way, a great deal of energy is expended here without the delivery of any real surprises.
Or truths. This show, which features a rough-hewn set designed by Rick and Jackie Penrod, uses a lot of video, mostly to try to depict the general's importance. But its display looks cheesy and low budget, undermining magnitude and credibility at every pretentious turn.
When: Through Oct. 14
Where: Next Theatre Company at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Tickets: $30-$40 at 847-475-1875 and nexttheatre.org