The Third Cosmic Connection!
In the small space of 76 pages, we can only see a fragment of the lives of Iphigenia’s characters. Their actions, their longings, their thoughts all assemble into a sort of vague but strong feeling which propels them, careening, towards one inevitable ending. Maybe that is the defining feature of tragedy — that the ending is coming, always. Whether you want it to be or not, it is, most assuredly, there. In its most recent iteration, Iphigenia 3.0 kicks off with a discussion of death. This conversation guides the piece through to its ending, one populated by — you guessed it — a series of murders and homicides. Knowing only half, a quarter, even less about each of the characters, can make the conclusion feel alienating, as if the stories of each character never were the important all along, as if their impressions on the world post-mortem mean more than their presence during their lives. Iphigenia and Orestes, stuck between the lives they lead in the “current day” of the play and the phantom lives they live with the ghosts of their parents, are true tragedians. We mourn for them, we hope, albeit vainly, that they might escape the inevitable end. But somewhere deep down, we recognize that their plot line exists as a vehicle for the rest of the piece. Their interactions are scripted even beyond the script, and their end result resonates not so much because it is true or relatable or surprising but because it is exactly what we would expect. Perhaps in the spirit of the same grandiosity, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby calls to mind the same desperation for something better than what the final moments, ultimately, bring. The more intimately the film engages with the lives of Gatsby and Daisy, two central characters whose love comes to a premature end, the more difficult it becomes to maintain an apathetic attitude towards the outcome of their situation. Will they die? Will just one of them die? If they do both make it out alive, will they be happier or better for it for it? With Gatsby and Daisy, on track for a doomed romance, just like that of Orestes and Iphigenia, these questions expand beyond their circumstances to canonize a genre of work — they canonize tragedy. These similar structures, however, break from tradition here. Both of them reimagine a “period piece” of sorts — as two stories set in very specific time periods, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby and Euripides’ Iphigenia riff off of the time periods from which they were written, capturing a certain contemporary spirit which, though it embodies themes and metaphors which still ring true in today’s context, also preserves a unique and ancient understanding of the world. When one moves to adapt these pieces, the effort to capture that spirit of modernity often plays a part. Luhrmann’s reenvisioning repackages that spirit of modernity through the 1920s to the 2010s with excess glamour and exaggerated glory. In a similar fashion, Brian’s vision for Iphigenia turns what might now be considered a subtle and quiet original into a shining, chrome-finish experience. The play links the audience to the original message and more — that standard vehicular tragedy, but also a new plethora of images which shout to the audience that theatre is not dead, that Greek tragedy is still interesting, that we can breathe new life into things that might feel tired. To some, it may seem unfaithful or blasphemous, but is that not part and parcel of art, to push the boundaries of our own comfort into worlds which, otherwise, would not exist? Luhrmann’s Gatsby expands upon the imagination of thousands of high schoolers, reading through the 1925 original and trying to wrap their heads around a world which feels so distant. When the soundtrack starts, modern artists like Lana Del Ray and Beyoncé and The xx pour out from the speakers, and suddenly the distant moves into a space that is neither ancient nor modern, yet is also both, all at once. Nick Carraway and Gatsby may wear clothes no one does anymore, but they feel a little bit like us when they dance along to Fergie. The overwhelming shimmer of it all keeps it just a little bit out of the real, leaving space for the audience to imagine, even when so many of the details from their imagination appear before their eyes, already all spelled out. So, too, does Bloc Party set the stage for a familiar story in Iphigenia; but then the play gets started, and the stabbing gets started, and the blood and guts — and, especially, the chorus’ sense of humor about it all — feels as wrong and out of place as the elaborate organ sprawling throughout Gatsby’s mansion and the “eyes of God” that watch on as Gatsby and Daisy inadvertently cause the death of a character about whom they, and we, know so little. The incongruity of the familiar and the fantastic stand at the forefront of our discomfort with pieces like Luhrmann’s Gatsby or Brian’s Iphigenia. But this discomfort, borne of and understandable inability to reconcile two very different experiences, can be a productive one. It can, and often does, ask us to reexamine the situations we understand to be “standard” or “predictable” in our own lives. It can also reignite our imaginations. Both Luhrmann and Brian pull this off well, though their pieces do so in different ways. In bringing together childlike wonderment with the complexity and humor of an adult’s relationship with the world, these exaggerations force us to reconcile our own inherent incongruities. From here, where do we go? Should we continue to seek out that space? Do we want to give audiences an easy answer upon which to settle, or do we want to push them towards the unknown and the liminal, or do we want to do something else entirely? How should they feel as they leave the theater, and what should they do after the show has ended and they have arrived back at their homes or in their favorite chair or on the stoop of their usual haunt? What are ways through which we can craft and develop our desired outcome — is it through the addition, the adjustment, or the subtraction of more design elements or stage directions? Or, perhaps, something else entirely?