There’s the illuminating kind of irony, where clever antics reveal disjunctures at a play’s core—and then there’s the glib kind, where self-satisfied mugging masks a flimsy theatrical vision. Michi Barall’s Rescue Me—a whimsical, occasionally cloying dissection of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Tauris staged by Ma-Yi Theater Company—contains plenty of both.
In the fifth century BC, Iphigenia‘s happy ending broke the Greek tragic mold. The unlucky “Iph” dodges human sacrifice, only to end up in the hinterlands, where her duties involve scrubbing down foreigners before their altar-top deaths. When her brother, Orestes, washes up on shore after murdering their mom, things get sticky—until the deus ex machina kicks in.
Barall’s kitschy, research-happy rewrite meditates on staging Attic drama today. David Greenspan, pitch-perfect as Artemis, calls the show—sometimes literally, quibbling with Iphigenia over blocking and light cues. Cheesy ’80s tunes echo Euripides’ melodramatic indulgences, and midway through the actors summon a classics scholar onstage to field audience queries. Director-designer Loy Arcenas’s imaginative set abounds with faux-Hellenic flourishes: stenciled columns, an altar stocked with honey and cheap wine.
In Rescue Me‘s inspired moments, these hijinks expose the tensions inherent in resurrecting ancient forms. Other times, they’re more like cutesy CliffsNotes—too amped up on trivia to reach tragedy’s epic heights.