Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart

This update of a Greek tragedy has a modern look but the same old sense of the inevitable

Arts Review

Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a Rave Fable)

Salvage Vanguard Theater, through March 7

Running time: 1 hr, 15 min

"Erase me," says the girl.

"Erase every part of me so I can make myself into something new."

This is what the girl tells the warrior/singer in the fishnet hose and thick false eyelashes. She desires a new life because she's come to suspect that her old one is not her own and never has been, that all she is – the Good Girl, the Proper Daughter – has been developed and manipulated to serve the political ends of her father. And soon she may die to serve those ends, as well.

With Caridad Svich's play, the title tells the tale. This girl is Iphigenia – not the one who was sacrificed at Aulis to bring the wind that would carry the Greek warships to Troy, but her fate is the same. While it involves no stranded fleet, no mythic battle waiting beyond the blue horizon, just an unnamed, dusty little Latin American state littered with pink crosses for the murdered factory girls – think Juárez – it does include a father who is a general in a fix (he could lose his iron grip on power in the next election) and for whom his daughter's death offers an out. (Who could vote against him after he's suffered her tragic loss?) Sensing that all is not right, this Iphigenia runs away to a rave in an airplane hangar, to lose herself in the arms of an androgynous glam rocker named Achilles, to find a different heartbeat in the thump-thump-thump of a DJ's dance track, to find joy in Ecstasy.

In this Salvage Vanguard Theater production, Adriene Mishler is the picture of the Good Girl, tricked out in her pink Chanel dress and Gucci shoes, moving with charm-school poise. And she centers behind Iphigenia's honor-student smile an essential sense of trust, that unquestioning trust in others that led her to this fatal juncture and trust that her journey to this rave will be her escape.

We know better. For the air in this production is heavy with inevitability. Whatever charge of the unpredictable is generated by the preshow activity – and the business of being led outside to the back of the theatre and into the wide-open playing space through a narrow hall, then given free rein to sit wherever, move whenever by Dustin Wills' jacked-up transvestite guide does spark an anything-can-happen buzz – it dissipates shortly after the play proper begins. In Svich's language, which sometimes rolls in weighty waves of poetry; in the ominous intonations of Mical Trejo's news anchor; in the grasping machinations of Harvey Guion's scheming father and the slurred speech and blurred gaze of Monika Bustamante's martini-swilling mother; even in the deliberate steps and singing of Jude Hickey's seductively epicene Achilles, we feel the burden of the predestined, the inescapable. And none of the show's lighter bits – not Guion, Trejo, and Wills in tarted-up drag as the ghosts of murdered factory girls or the purposefully crude satyr play they stage; not the cups of Skittles handed out to us as we enter; not Lee Webster's thrillingly inventive video design – can serve as counterweight. Director Jenny Larson has assembled an enviable team of artists, and they contribute work that does them all proud, but we see where this is headed, and it isn't a party. In the end waits that preordained death, and the best one can do, Svich seems to say, is submit to it on one's own terms.

Iphigenia may be a rave fable, but it doesn't come with a tab of X. It's a fistful of blues with a bourbon chaser.

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Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Caridad Svich, Jenny Larson, Adriene Mishler, Jude Hickey, Dustin Wills, Monika Bustamante, Lee Webster

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