Euripides' Iphigeneia in Tauris
Translated into Italian by Umberto Albini
Directed by Massimo Castri

March 1994
Teatro Morlacchi, Perugia

Reviewed by
Caterina Barone
Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Antichita
Universita di Padova
Fax: 049/8284713

Massimo Castri has always taken an experimental approach to Euripides' work, highlighting its innovative and iconoclastic 'Vis.' His stagings of Euripidean tragedies are never mere readings, conceived according to classical hermeneutic tradition, but represent a strong search for new, interpretive forms. The director places the themes and new forms for which Euripides' contemporaries criticized him at the center of his work on the Greek text and translates them into modern dramatic language. His Iphigeneia in Tauris is even bolder and more radical than his December 1993 Electra, according to his conviction that 'The critical and innovative run of the tragedy begun in Electra is completed in Iphigeneia.... Iphigeneia in Tauris is set at the extreme edge of the spectrum of Euripides' new way of writing.'

Castri attempts to create an equivalent of the bursting force of these texts by using techniques of contemporary, modern theater, in which category he includes the last great Shakespearean romances, Beckett, and some mythologies of our own century. It is also possible to see some of the cadences of the commedia dell' arte, first in the Herdsman and then in the Messenger whose narrative mime recalls those of the expressive, capering Arlecchino.

As in Electra, the set is the main element of the performance. The massive walls of Artemis' temple dominate a sandy beach whose golden color blends with the light blue of the dawn sky which achieves warmer tones as the day progresses. The gentle sound of waves against a shore breaks the initial silence in the theater. This exotic, adventurous scenery complements the plot of the tragedy and Euripides' own emphasis on barbaric practices.

Castri's approach is ironic and anti-heroic. Orestes and Pylades, loaded down with their luggage, are humane, impudent, irreverent young comrades, short on scruples but also on skill and courage. They address each other in forms familiar from the Theater of the Absurd, with surreal cadences. They move clumsily, their gestures foolish and extravagant. Pylades, faithful, slightly crazy, substantially wise, half fool and half loyal advisor, comes very close to being a Shakespearean character.

Iphigeneia, draped in an old wedding-dress with a silver heart worn around her neck like a broken vow, behaves like an embittered spinster, a grumbler who slobbers over her own memories of old grudges. She goes about her duties angrily, making trouble, moved by useless hatred of the Greeks. She wanders about the shore and temple, always busy and slightly hysterical. But in the moment of action she proves cunning an ready to deceive Thoas, a credulous, foolish king who walks protecting himself under a funny little umbrella held by a servant.

The final procession winds past the temple, with the condemned men guarded and joined together by a rope and the priestess at its head carrying the bust of Artemis, the black goddess, in her arms like a Byzantine Madonna. The tragedy closes with a song, like a comic opera, eccentric and ironic. It forms the perfect backdrop for the apparition of Athena, ex machina, the image of a Catholic angel in a religious painting, only superficially concerned with human events.

Caterina Barone
Padova, Italy

Caterina Barone teaches Classics at the University of Padova.