Iphigenia: the princess/priestess of Greek myth, rescued by Artemis from being sacrificed for favorable winds. Splott: a district in Cardiff, Wales. Effie: streetwise protagonist, and only character, in Gary Owen’s ripping Iphigenia in Splott. No princess, but like Iphigenia, a starkly memorable creation who offers a willing sacrifice for a greater good.
A typhoon of a performance by Sophie Melville drives toward – and justifies – a final wrenching twist. Directed with just-shy-of-frantic energy by Rachel O’Riordan, Melville’s Effie is a raw slice of humanity, using Owen’s flood of words to bare her ragged soul and bring us her milieu, a few of the people in her life, and a critical encounter with a war veteran that bends the arc of her history toward, if not justice, a kind of heroism.
The economics may be doubtful, the math oversimplified – I don’t know enough about the British health system to say for sure – but Effie’s final calculation reveals a nobility of character that’s hinted at throughout this raunchy and passionate tale.
Minute sound and lighting cues (by Sam Jones and Rachel Mortimer respectively) enhance the curls and jabs of the drama, helping to make this solo show much more than a mere monologue. Effie is that rare and wonderful combination, a being of both grippingly real emotion and stylized characterization – a creature that can exist only in the theater.
Speaking directly to us, she vivifies every setting and encounter via machine-gun delivery punctuated by pregnant pauses and demonstrative physicality. She intensifies it all with changing but always convincing attitudes: confrontational, trusting, browbeating, bare-all. To my American brain, Effie’s heavy accent defied comprehension here and there, especially in the most rapid-fire passages. Yet even at those moments she sustains a heated breathlessness in the theater as we wonder where she’s taking us.
Nothing in Effie’s story, until the very end, feels unusual on the surface, however heightened by her almost carnivalesque passion. Yet like her mythical predecessor, Iphigenia in Splott is a marvel – of a much more concentrated kind. Go see this fiery production imported from Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre, now at 59E59 Theaters until June 4.
And now you don’t even have to look up where Splott is. You’re welcome.