Greek is Chic

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

This past weekend, the Getty Villa presented Agamemnon by Aeschylus as part of their new series of informal, staged readings. If this Agamemnon (starring Tyne Daly as Clytemnestra) is any indication, these Villa Theater Lab events should make a valuable addition to L.A.'s classical drama landscape.

As a staged reading, the actors all dressed in black and simply sat around a table with scripts. Their Agamemnon (directed by Stephen Wadsworth) was well-rehearsed and featured elaborate lighting cues and sound effects--not to mention a riveting performance of Cassandra's monologue, which actress Francesca Faridany got up on top of the table to recite.

The Getty Agamemnon was only one of a number of classic Greek myths on stage in L.A. this weekend. Just down PCH from the Villa, City Garage, the small Santa Monica theater tucked behind the 3rd Street Promenade, was showing Charles Mee's Iphigenia 2.0, a rethinking of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis.

Iphigenia is the third and final production of City Garage's "Three by Mee" season, which started back in June with a production of Mee's Agamemnon 2.0. Iphigenia, like City Garage's other Mee productions, is directed by Frederique Michel and it features set pieces (a weathered, old fishing boat and a pan flute) as well as actors (namely Troy Dunn as Agamemnon) seen earlier in the trilogy.

Iphigenia is the most accessible of the "Three by Mee" series, both a production and as a play. Mee's text is still assembled in a Dadaist, collage fashion, bringing together snippets of existing classic and contemporary writing; but in this piece, his curatorial hand feels more focused. In one scene, Mee has written an exchange between Clytemnestra and Agamemnon that has the feel of an old-fashioned drama--which throws the actors for a loop since for three plays straight they've been performing in completely post-modern style. Seeing them suddenly grapple with direct conflict and natural release of emotion is odd--it's like watching soap opera actors whose teleprompters suddenly start scrolling Shakespeare.

The result is a play that's less rambunctious than Mee's other adaptations, but no less engaging for being relatively straightforward.

Michel, likewise, has streamlined Mee's stage directions as well as her own directorial flare. The blocking is less busy and there are fewer moments that call attention to their own audacity. The final tableaux is far more restrained than the food-fight orgy that Mee calls for in his text, but the flash of chaos shown by the director is more haunting because of its brevity.

Equally haunting, but more whimsical (not to mention, less political) in tone is another Greek update playing across town at Inside the Ford. Sarah Ruhl's update of the Eurydice myth has been slowly touring the country these last few years in a spectacular staging by Les Waters. It hasn't played in Los Angeles, so the Circle X Theatre Company decided to mount a production of their own.

It's not hard so see why; Ruhl's Eurydice is filled with evocative imagery (like rain-filled elevators and a tricycle-riding Lord of the Underworld) plus simple, honest, but poetic language. Director John Langs' version is almost identical to the Waters' production (which heads off-Broadway next year) minus a few canted angles and gallons of H20.

What Langs does achieve is a slightly more grounded reading of play. The lyric moments don't soar as high, but as a dramatic experience, the play works better. After two viewings, Ruhl's Eurydice is not quite the masterpiece some have hailed it to be, but it does seem to have just enough dazzle to inspire actors and directors to do excellent work.

Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice runs through January 6 at the John Anson Ford Theatre, Charles Mee's version of Iphigenia resumes its run at City Garage January 12 through February 4.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.