Ripon College presents modernized Greek classic play

Ripon College will bring Euripides’ prize-winning classical tragedy, Iphigenia at Aulis, March 4-7. Performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Benstead Theatre, C.J. Rodman Center for the Arts. The script is Professor Robert Amsden’s adaptation of Robert Meagher’s 1991 translation. Amsden, the play’s director, chose the translation for playability, accessible contemporary language and succinctness.

The production team of Amsden, Professors John Dalziel (scenery and lighting designer), Susan McDaniel Hill (costume designer) and Kenneth Hill (sound designer) have set the play in a post-World War II armed camp to give the production a mid-20th century look. “I think the play was written in circumstances very much like our own in 21st-century United States: an acrimonious political atmosphere, civil strife and an over-extended military,” Amsden says. “We thought a setting close to a contemporary look would help feature the ‘realistic’ aspects of the play.”

Amsden contends, along with most theatre scholars, that Euripides’ plays are remarkably “modern” and still speak to us across the centuries. “Iphigenia,” along with The Bakkhai (staged by Ripon College in 2001) and a lost play won first prize for Euripides in 405 BC in Athens shortly after his death.

“A Greek tragedy, or a Shakespearean play (the college just staged Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), gives the director and the production team some interesting staging opportunities,” Amsden says. “Benstead Theatre continues to be configured in the round, and even though I chose to stage The Bakkhai in masks years ago, this show with its more contemporary feel will be staged without masks.” Amsden says the production is a blend of contemporary language and behavior, formal address and imaginative staging strategies.

The story is about what took place in a military camp on the shore of the harbor where all the Greek ships involved in the Trojan War were idle. Agamemnon (played by Brennan Kane ’17 of Ramsey, Minnesota) is in charge of the amassed armies and is the brother to Menelaus (played by Grant Myers ’17 of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin). Menelaus was wronged by the Trojan Paris (Drew Hetz ’17 of Manitowoc, Wisconsin) who abducted his wife, the beautiful and infamous Helen (Stephanie Nilsen ’18 of Waukesha, Wisconsin).

Because of an oath Helen’s father made all of Helen’s suitors take to defend her honor, the Greek armies from the various cities are assembled in the harbor ready to revenge Helen’s abduction. Agamemnon is set to sail, but he and his brother ran afoul of the powerful deity Artemis. As punishment, the deity will not allow the winds to blow so the ships can sail unless Agamemnon performs the human sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia (Allison Macknick ’17 of Sheboygan, Wisconsin).

Euripides’ play reveals the struggles, pain and conflicts that are generated by the decision to go to war. The rich and powerful are shown as their values of allegiance to the state and the devotion to the family are challenged with the question of what is the worth of a child’s life in the face of international politics, national pride and global strife.

The cast is rounded out by Susie Shively ’17 of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, as Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife; David Firari ’18 of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, as Achilles, the great war hero as a young man; Connor Cummiskey ’16 of Hamburg, Minnesota, as Agamemnon’s old servant; Carly Lundt ’16 of Madison, Wisconsin, as the messenger; Mike Baumhardt ’18 as Odysseus; and, as the women of Chalcis, Cecelia Ward ’18 of Coldwater, Michigan; Nilsen; Kat Sheerin (’16); and Sophie Widman ’18 of Boulder Creek, California.

A Ripon College Friends of the Arts Reception will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5, in the Rodman lobby and will feature Vincent Tomasso, visiting assistant professor of classics, presenting information about the Trojan War and the House of Atreus.

Tickets are free, but reservations are recommended by calling 920-748-8791 or emailing [email protected].

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