NEW YORK – As theater aims for a comeback after the pandemic, the New York Euripides Summer Festival was compelled to present its 2021 lineup of Phoenician Maidens and Iphigenia at Aulis remotely, using Zoom, for the second consecutive summer season, due to the strict regulations applicable for indoor rehearsing and performing.
American Thymele Theatre founder Stephen Diacrussi explains that “up until a few weeks ago, no sound permits were being issued and we did not feel comfortable rehearsing without a facial covering. If one of us had tested positive for the virus, it would mark the end of production. Pandemic cases continue to rise and essential production outlets such as MFTA remain closed. Because the outdoor amphitheaters we use are always subject to the mercy of the elements, the scheduling of indoor performances is necessary and we could not wait further, until theaters reopen in October, to perform summer repertory.”
This year’s selections of Phoenician Maidens and Iphigenia at Aulis were especially challenging, due to the complexity of the plays and the unusually large number of characters, minus the choruses, represented by only two chorus members in each play. Some company members appear in both plays. “This worked out just fine,” Diacrussi said, “we finally did it ensemble style.”
As for the finished products, the innovative, single-character-shot format that Diacrussi developed for last summer’s pandemic edition of the festival, was again applied in post-production, creating a unique style for remote filmmaking.
Euripides’ longest play, Phoenician Maidens resembles a compilation of other tragedies, such as Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus Rex, and Antigone, and Euripides’ Suppliants. When Oedipus realizes that he had children with his own mother, he blinds himself and he is ultimately driven away from Thebes by Creon, to live in exile, after his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and his wife Jocasta are killed. This unusually “stuffed” play is named after the women from Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), who are detained in Thebes due to the ongoing war, while on their way to serve Apollo in Delphi, in a scenic panorama of the Theban saga.
Especially selected to coincide with the 200th year since the start of the Greek Revolution of 1821, Iphigenia at Aulis is one of Euripides’ most patriotic plays, its last scene is believed to have been added after Euripides’ death, by his son. It centers on Helen, the presumed cause of the Trojan War and Euripides’ disapproval that a war should be waged merely for the sake of a woman. The playwright uses the generosity of Iphigenia, to willingly sacrifice herself for the benefit of Hellas, in sharp contrast to the selfishness that Helen represents, in this dynamic dramatization of the sacrifice of Iphigenia that has since inspired an opulence of other art forms, especially in painting and music.
The two plays, Phoenician Maidens and Iphigenia at Aulis, the 2021 New York Euripides Summer Festival, are available on the American Thymele Theatre YouTube channel.