Agamemnon’s Dilemma Yields Tragic Consequences in Getty Villa Performance

By Libby Motika
Palisades News Contributor

As we see how the weight of being king and general of the Greek army bows the mighty Agamemnon, we are at once moved by his troubled anxiety.

“Woe is me! Ah woe! I am utterly distraught; bewilderment comes o’er me,” Agamemnon laments at the outset of “Iphigenia in Aulis,” the last of the extant works by Euripides, now on stage at the Getty Villa outdoor amphitheater through Sept. 30.

Agamemnon is facing the consequences of offending the goddess Artemis, who in return is issuing an impossible bargain. As with all Greek tragedy, man’s behavior is guided at times by pride or fear, but always by the whims of the gods, who themselves are flawed.

From left: Stephanie Andrea Barron (Iphigenia); Mark Montgomery (Agamemnon) and Sandra Marquez (Clytemnestra). Photo: Craig Schwartz

The king has assembled the Greek army of brave and heroic warriors, some 1,000 strong on the shores of Aulis, eager to sail for Troy to retrieve the abducted Helen and crush this hated enemy.

But there is not to be an armada as “all is still, the sea is silent, the wind is calm, we cannot move.”

Artemis’ power is great and her command cripples Agamemnon’s spirit. He must sacrifice his first-born daughter Iphigenia in exchange for steady winds.

Euripides doesn’t question the goddess’ motives; this is as it is, Ananke, the primordial deity of necessity or fate.

This dilemma sets the play in motion, plunging the king into impossible circumstances; agonizing over his family affections, questioning his moral integrity and weighing his fealty to the state.

“The yoke of fate lies heavily on my neck. My curse on Paris, son of Priam, you have destroyed me.”

Agamemnon’s dilemma sweeps a whole orbit into the drama: His wife, Clytemnestra, who will forever anguish over the death of her daughter; Achilles, the great Greek hero of the Trojan War, who was offered as a husband for Iphigenia as a ruse to lure her to Aulis from her home in Argos; and the king’s brother Menelaus, Helen’s wronged husband, who exhorts Agamemnon to take up arms.

All of this is countered by the Greek army, which like any army is poised for battle and growing restless, as they remain stranded by the delay.

Translated by Nicholas Rudall and directed by Charles Newell, this co-production with Chicago’s Court Theatre addresses the seduction of military glory—that attractive rainbow—and the tragedy of war; a topic most ripe in our world.

“The great thing about Athenian tragedy is how playwrights are able to take old and familiar myths and constantly model them, change them and adapt them to suit the preoccupations of their time,” Rudall writes.

Rudall, the founding artistic director of the Court, provides a translation of the Greek that carries the meaning and tone of the original while maintaining the rhythmic cadence and lofty language.

The nearly bare stage cedes the power of emotion and fate to the cast, all of whom are worthy of the ancient text. Director Newell presents an a cappella chorus of five women who deliver the sobering commentary in beautiful song. Costume designer Jacqueline Firkins has dressed each to full effect in full skirts and silk shawls in various shades of blue, green and turquoise.

For tickets, contact getty.edu/visit or call (310) 440-7300.

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