No myth from Greek Classicism is complete without a good ritual sacrifice.
One of the most famous of these stories is Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon who was sacrificed by her father in order to appease the Goddess Artemis who had prevented the Grecian fleet from departing for their assault on Troy. Ma-Yi Theatre's production, Rescue Me: A Postmodern Classic with Snacks by Michi Barall takes an irreverent re-examination of the Euripedean classic, Iphigenia in Tauris. The Tauris version of the play, as humorously explicated by the goddess Artemis (David Greenspan), begins with Iphigenia (Jennifer Ikeda) being spared from her sacrificial doom at the last moment; the goddess interceding and replacing her body with that of a deer, and whisking her off to the remote and "barbaric" land of the Taurians, where Iph now labors as a priestess of Artemis. Longing to return to her homeland of Greece, Iph pines over her misfortunes and monotonous life, ironically preparing human sacrifices (preferably Grecians) to the goddess and begs the fates to be rescued by her brother Orestes.
Orestes (Julian Barnett), as it turns out is closer that Iph realizes. He arrives at Tauris with his bosom buddy Pylades (Ryan King) to steal the statue of Artemis from the Temple of Tauris to finally rid himself of the Furies (who persecute him for killing his mother to avenge the murder of his father... yes it's all very complicated and vaguely reminiscent of a soap opera). They are captured by the Elvis-impersonating Taurian king (Leon Ingulsrud) and his assistant (Paco Tolson) and are ordered to be sacrificed to the goddess.
Will Iphigenia sacrifice her brother? Will Orestes and Pylades escape harm? Will Orestes rescue his sister Iphigenia?
The re-staging of the play isn't a dramatic departure from the spirit of the original play, which was already an alternative story of an older play, Iphigenia at Aulis. In fact, the inter-play dialogue becomes central to the narrative, imbuing Rescue Me with a distinctly meta-theatric air. Between the expertly choreographed dance pieces by Julian Barnett (who also played Orestes) and the mid-show question and answer with a classicist scholar (here's where the snacks come in to play), Rescue Me precariously balances a purposefully disjointed narrative, whimsical anachronisms, and over-the-top self-referentialism to conclude miraculously with a tremendously enjoyable performance.
My favorite aspect of the whole performance was the various dance pieces between the main characters (Orestes/Pylades and Orestes/Iphigenia). Director Loy Arcenas somehow is able to dodge the awkward transitions in form between theatre and dance to create a believable and seamless experience. The short pieces are able to convey a wealth of background, weight, and complexity to these characters that we only really get short glimpses of. In the span of a few minutes we see the entirety of a life long friendship and a complex familial bond played out. Queer viewers may take extra delight in Orestes/Pylades not-so-subtle homoerotic pas de deux, a nice hat tip to the well established queerness of Greek theatre.
A review of this play also cannot go without the mention of Off-Off Broadway star and veteran Paco Tolson, a master of many a comic relief, played everything from a herdsman (with outstanding sheep puppetry), the royal yes-man, to a CNN correspondent. No one brought down the house as hard or as frequently as Mr. Tolson.
Rescue Me, presented by Ma-Yi Theatre Company plays at the Ohio Theatre in Soho through April 18th. If you get a chance SEE THIS SHOW. For ticketing information go to Ma-Yi's website.