Thursday, January 17, 2008


Originally Posted by Sara Danielsen, Artistic Assistant, September 27, 2007

For two nights this week the cast of the Signature's opening play of the Chuck Mee season were in residence at the Guggenheim's Works and Process, bringing some noisy, messy, fabulous theatre to the Upper East Side. The Works and Process series is better known for its previews of significant dance companies, so it was difficult to guess what might be going through the minds of the Guggenheim patrons as Tom Nelis playing Agamemnon delivered his opening monologue on the ever expanding reach of an anxious empire. Chuck's play doesn't shy away from politics or implicit criticism of our current administration, and the opening monologue is an especially damning salvo to the politics of the right.

And then came the Macho Dance.

Which, of course, is preceded by the four actors playing the chorus of soldiers stripping down to their skivvies.

We're not at the ballet anymore, ladies and gentlemen of the Guggenheim.

The evening was not all shock and awe. Anne Bogart as the moderator led a fascinating conversation with Chuck and Tina Landau, the director of Iphigenia 2.0, on their working relationship and the creative process. Tina explained that for her the play isn't a thing that needs to be brought to life. "The text is one of many tracks, like in a piece of recorded music. We also have bodies, light, sound, and space to work with, and some third thing is created. I spend a lot of time busting the play open with the actors, creating an odd collage of the text and what the actors bring."

Both Anne and Tina had previously collaborated with Chuck, so the conversation was particularly intimate and revealing. Anne told Chuck that she heard he had been unable to write the play until his own daughters were grown up and out of the house. Chuck confirmed the story, explaining that he'd been given a stack of research materials on the story fifteen years earlier during rehearsals for Orestes 2.0, but couldn't face the idea of a father killing his daughter. The audience too, seemed particularly receptive to the family tragedy; they were riveted by the scene between Kate Mulgrew as Clytemnestra and Tom Nelis's Agamemnon.

Inevitably though, the politics of the piece were hard to ignore. An appreciative chuckle rippled through the audience when Chuck explained the choice to place the demand to sacrifice Iphigenia with the soldiers: "In a democracy it is the people to whom the politicians are answerable, not the gods."

Afterwards, as we stood in the beautiful Rotunda of the Guggenheim nibbling on fancy snacks and comparing notes on the evening, I still wondered what the Works and Process audience had made of the performances and the three speakers. It's the pain and privilege of theatre to never know if what you hear after a performance is polite applause or a group of people busy absorbing a new experience. I'm hoping for the latter.

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