By David Walters
The actors, all in black, meander on stage doing their warm-up, take off their shoes and leave them lined up upstage remaining barefoot. The band (whose members are renowned in the jazz community) consisting of drums, double bass, violin, and clarinet tunes up and arranges their sheet music. Downstage and highlighted in a spotlight are flickering candles (and scattered in groups of three throughout the acting space), wine glasses, a wine decanter, a large wooden bowl of sand and one of water, a piece of paper and pen. Projected on an upstage screen that covers the whole of the back wall is a large body of water with small waves being blown by a slight wind. A woman in white robes is standing in front of this projection blending into and part of the water.
So begins Iphigenia Point Blank.
Actor (Danny Bryck) steps forward, tells us he is the wind and our guide, and welcomes us to join in their ritual. Simultaneously on the projection screen, a pink child’s water ring float is being slowly blown across the water, a military ship passes in the distance and is followed shortly after by a car inner-tube following the child’s float.
Iphigenia’s story in a nutshell: Agamemnon on his way to Troy to bring back Helen kills a deer and angers the god Artemis. His ships and army become becalmed with no wind. Artemis will accept the sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in exchange for bringing the wind back. Agamemnon tells his wife and daughter that she is to marry Achilles and to prepare for the wedding. Upon their arrival, surprise, it’s a sacrifice instead. But upon slitting her throat, Iphigenia disappears and a doe is found dead in her place. Iphigenia becomes a refugee seeking out the whereabouts of her brother Orestis. It’s a great story.
There are continually two things happening at once on stage, the silent projection of the refugee’s journey on the screen, and happening in front a stylistic live performance of Euripides‘ telling of the plight of Iphigenia presented in word, movement, and song, pulsingly accentuated by the musical artists on stage.
Throughout the whole of the play, the documentary film projection upstages the actors telling its own powerful story of refugees arriving on the shores of Greece in inflatable dinghies, being welcomed ashore, and brought to a fenced-in internment camp for an unknown period of time. We see their arrival (men, women, children, elderly in wheelchairs) in overly packed precarious boats, walking along the rocky shore wrapped in Mylar blankets, looking through piles of children’s clothes, in evening prayer, doing laundry at the camp in a bucket and a trickle of water from a spigot, the tent city that has been erected, a child playing with the long strand of a necklace, and families sleeping in the open who weren’t able to get a tent. What comes through in the documentary footage is although there is no reason to hope, yet hope exists.
The strongest connection between these two presentations (the film and the actors) was the plight of children and their future. Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother (Crystal Marie Stewart), makes a plea for her daughter’s life enforcing that being able to give birth and “making children is everything,” not these wars where men go off to kill other’s children, and “the greatest act of resistance, is making children.” We see that mirrored in the film as well as the refugee mothers working tirelessly for their children, living on slim hope for them and their future.
At the end of the play, the audience is brought into the heart and soul of the production where the projection screen comes down, is placed over the audience’s head, and we are all underwater. Pretty cool.
“Sometimes life is what life costs” is a heartwrenching theme of these two stories in a play that challenges complacency.
Now through December 9, 2023 at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleeker Street, NYC. Tickets can be bought here.
Running time, approximately an hour.