Thursday, August 30, 2007

Count Mee in

I cannot agree more with my colleague Adam Feldman's assessment of Charles Mee's latest play, Iphigenia 2.0, presented by the Signature Company. Mee's habitual Frankentechnique—grafting contemporary bits and bobs lifted from various sources onto a structure borrowed from classical theater—works wonders here. As usual, the text is up on Mee's website, but it acquires its full resonance onstage.

The production is off to a rocky start—I found Tom Nelis' delivery of Agamemnon's opening monologue stiff and lacking in power—but quickly recovers. Director Tina Landau totally gets the kinetic imperatives of a Mee play, and this one requires a no-holds-barred physicality that expresses itself both in violence and in dance/calisthenics numbers by the soldiers, echoing the actiony fun commercials suggest being in the army is all about.

Far from being a borderline-campy dragon lady, as a reviewer suggested, Kate Mulgrew is seethingly intense as Clytemnestra. The way she hisses the word insane is bone-chilling and her big warning/threat to Agamemnon may well go down as the scariest ten seconds of theater of the year: "If you kill your daughter, I will murder you. I will tear your hands from your arms and your arms from your shoulders. I will burn the flesh from your body, I will beat your bones to dust. What you have begun will not be finished until you are pounded back into the dirt." (I just don't think Victoria Clark, initially slated to play Clytemnestra, could have delivered this speech with the ferocity Mulgrew summons.)

It's also great to see Landau finally hit her stride. I deeply disliked the first shows by her I saw—Stonewall: Night Variations in 1994 and Floyd Collins in 1996—but her inventive, delicate staging of J.M. Barrie's Mary Rose at the Vineyard earlier this year and now this quick, light-on-its-feet Iphigenia 2.0 prove that she's in full control of the tools at her disposal. Few directors in this town can make that boast.

Mee fans rejoice: His Hotel Cassiopeia is at BAM in October, staged by Anne Bogart (I'd quite enjoyed their collaboration on bobrauschenbergamerica a few years back), and of course there are more installments coming in Mee's Signature series. Perhaps, at last, people will acknowledge Mee for what he is: Not just an avant-gardist hovering on the periphery, but one of the three best living American dramatists.

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