I started working on the project at the same time the Arab Spring began. I had previously written the libretto for a piece called The Velvet Oratorio, which told the story of another, very successful public uprising, Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution. But it has always seemed to me that democracy, which we at times hold up as an unadorned virtue, is a deeply flawed system. Here, we have been warned about the tyranny of the majority, but historically, the will of the people has often had a bloodthirsty edge. The violence in the Middle East that has accompanied the Arab Spring reminds us once again that the line between democracy and a mob is at times a thin one.
Euripides was a critic of democracy at the time [the 5th century BC], fearing it could descend into ochlocracy (mob rule). One needs to look no further than the ostracizing of Socrates, voted upon by his fellow citizens, for the crime of having unpopular beliefs, to see democracy's dark side. One fascinating thing to me about Iphegenia is that the real antagonists are offstage – in the end, it is the call of the mob that dooms Iphigenia, despite Agamemnon's best efforts to reverse the fate he put in motion.
Ivanna Cullinan as Klytemnestra and Michael Bertolini as Agamemnon in "Iphigenia in Aulis" directed by Edward Einhorn at LaMama. Photo by Richard Termine.
Your bio notes that you previously adapted and directed Aristophanes' Lysistrata. Do you have an overall philosophy about how to present ancient Greek drama for a modern audience?
My main goal is simple, though at times deceptively difficult: it is to present the work clearly and compellingly. I feel that the language often used in Greek translation stands as somewhat of a barrier to understanding, and while in Iphigenia I still use heightened language, I tried to make sure that each sentence would be as clear and easy to speak and to hear as possible. Often, these translations are written by scholars with a deep understanding of the ancient language but with less skill in playwriting as an art.
I also write with a director's eye, noting the original themes so that I can highlight them in my word choice and perhaps reflect modern parallels in the language I choose. Thus, when I begin the process of direction, part of the job has already been done.