An ode to post-war Hollywood, the Coen Brothers represent the Golden Age of Cinema in a way only they can. And it’s a damn good time.
burn after reading
- 3. 2. 7. 3. 14. 8.
Because words cannot describe what it felt to be a member of the audience during the play, I can only convey what little sense the play made through those numbers.
However, like the play, there is a meaning behind them, no matter how absurd. In the first 10 minutes of the play, we’ve been introduced to 3 main actors who each play at least 2 roles despite the fact that there are 7 people dressed in floral outfits offering ___ (insert whatever English literary term you think describes what happened) asides while dancing to the music of 3 people who were also in floral dresses. And 14? That’s the number of claps and obnoxiously loud drum beats it took to wake up the 8 people who were sleeping in the front row.
I could just end it here, but like The Room, there’s a certain satisfaction I get with sticking through until the end. A flop with passion, nonetheless, is still a better source of entertainment than a high priced blockbuster. And I wish I could label this play as one of the two, but it just ended up being the equivalent of Battlefield Earth with Andie MacDowell’s rain scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral as reinforcement.
I don’t even want to get down to the basics as to why I now ponder what I could have done with that hour and 28 minutes. I could have watched a large portion of Nicolas Cage’s version of The Wicker Man, and that would have still been more exciting than this play. I could watch the middle of Caligula on a loop four times and still gotten more joy out of that than this play. (Well that’s another story that’s a bit too taboo to talk about). Nonetheless, those 88 minutes would have given me a longer life span than Kevin Spacey in Outbreak, and between the two, I would pick dying of some ebola-like disease over this play.
And now the actual play. “Iphigenia in Aulis,” a play by Euripides, is done no justice in this adaptation. I have no idea what “transadaptor” Anne Washburn (whose previous work has included the play “The Communist Dracula Pageant”) was thinking, but I did not enjoy sitting through five minutes of dialogue in between twenty minute long songs between the seven people dressed in floral outfits—and more about them later. In a note passed around with our tickets, Washburn wrote, “I’m calling this a transadaptation because I don’t read Ancient Greek.”
Yeah, well no kidding.
You know that scene in Julius Caesar when Cassius asks Casca what Cicero said, and Casca responds with the infamous line, “It was Greek to me” because the irony was that Cicero was speaking Greek and that Casca is this uneducated fool who doesn’t understand what mob psychology is and so the line became famous because it’s really funny considering the context but also because it means to not know something that usually a lot of people understand? *Breathes* You know what I mean?
That’s what this play was trying to do. I’m not saying it was trying to reinvent—wait, no, actually I am. The play was rewritten with the hope in mind that someone would be so taken aback with its style that it would become a world famous example of a new kind of play entertainment. It was written as a dare, I would say. Someone probably asked Washburn could she get away with taking an ancient Greek text and adding tribal music and obscure references and make it into a masterpiece. And sadly, it brought down one good actress with it.
The play, now premiering as part of the Greek Festival series at the Classic Stage Company on 13th Street, starred Rob Campbell as Achilles and Agamemnon; Amber Gray as Clytemnestra and Menelaus; and Kristen Sieh as Iphigenia, a messenger, and an old man. Now I know what you’re thinking, because it’s been three days and I still can’t get over it: when you have seven people on the ground singing about the play, and you have three actors playing every role, why don’t you take a singer and make them the messenger, who has three lines? While having actors play multiple characters was custom to ancient Greek times, a role as small as the messenger could have been played by one of the singers. Alas, logic is the last thing you’ll find at this play, and it’s unfortunate that Amber Gray, the only person who had any talent on stage, will be tainted with this terrible mark on her resume.
Imagine William H. Macy and Willem Dafoe morphed together, and that product has a problem with using his middle finger. That perfectly describes Campbell, the over actor of the play who takes it a bit too seriously. Not to mention that every single time he points, he uses his middle finger. Now that’s just unsettling to see: it’s the whole reason George overreacts in Seinfeld. Campbell, whose previous works have somehow included the play Macbeth and film Unforgiven, plays Agamemnon as someone trying to do a Sean Connery expression while suffering from an epileptic seizure. The way the stage is set up, there is one spotlight directly over his body, meaning that every time his Scottish to British to Aussie drawl would open up for a new line, he would spit buckets of saliva into the air, akin to a person training their cat with a spray bottle. With a splash zone as large as the Blue Man Group’s, stand back twenty feet if you want to see his guy in a play. Maybe his saliva won’t hit you, but his preposterous overacting will.
Remember the 2006 Superman Returns and how much Kevin Spacey overacted in that movie? But it was still fun to watch because, hell, Spacey was enjoying himself and it was entertaining. Well this guy just overacts, along with Sieh. First, tell me why Achilles has this transplant New York accent going on. First off, as a native New Yorker, if it’s something we hate more than gentrification, it’s transplants trying to pretend they’re New Yorkers. And C), Achilles was a Greek soldier in ancient Greek texts, and it’s duly noted that Campbell’s entire performance (at least as Achilles) was based off of Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading er uh cough um Troy. This, added on by the fact that Sieh was overly under acting (to her defense, when there’s a guy on stage yelling at you for hours, you’d probably get tired quickly), gave the play exactly what it needed: an obscenely rude amount of time to cover up. Thank goodness there was no intermission or else everyone would have walked out.
The only good characteristic of the play is Gray. She’s down to earth, she plays the characters as they need to be, she cries when she has to, she’s strong when it calls for her to do so. She’s the only normal one of the cast, providing just the right amount of reaction to actually make the play somewhat enjoyable—at least when she’s on stage. However, the true peeve of the show were the dancers. I’m a fan of Baz Luhrmann, I like how he combines new modern music into films that are of another era. I would be giving this play too much credit if I say that’s what the dancers were supposed to emulate. But don’t get me wrong, the music was well produced and I was more preoccupied with the well timed drum beats and cello solos than I was with the cast itself. The problem wasn’t even the music, it was that at times they were characters in the play, sometimes breaking the fourth wall, and sometimes being directly referred to by Achilles. In ancient Greece, the chorus played the role of responding to the drama onstage to better excite the audience, but never were they part of the play itself. What’s the point of offering commentary if the main character can hear you too?
If you really, really, really want to go see a play that won’t even let you have a good sleep, then go watch this play. If not, save the $20 and 88 minutes, and go next door to Whole Foods to wait in that long line and spend your ticket money on a can of organic tuna.