The Saga Collectif returns with Ho Ka Kei (Jeff Ho)’s Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land), a vital new adaptation of the rarely performed Iphigenia Among the Taurians by Euripides.
Saved from a sacrifice at Aulis at the hands of her father Agamemnon, Iphigenia (Virgilia Griffith) is whisked away by the god Artemis to Taurian land. Now a priestess, her role is to slaughter any foreigners that arrive – assisted by a disgruntled Chorus (PJ Prudat). Two strangers, pursued by the Furies, stumble upon her temple, claiming to be her long lost brother Orestes (Thomas Olajide) and his gawgeous lover Pylades (Augusto Bitter). Upon their reunion, Iphigenia is forced to make an impossible choice: risk it all and flee with the newcomers, or stay alive and true to her sacred mission. However, the Chorus might have something to say about all this…
To understand more about how Ho’s adaptation of this Greek mythology story came to be, he answered my 5 Questions…
HM: I understand the collective questioned whether to remount Iphigenia Among The Taurians due to it being predominantly a “white” play. What made you rewrite this story in a contemporary narrative?
Jeff Ho (JF): It was chosen for me. Jonathan Seinen [the director] and the collective had a desire to put up the original Iphigenia Among the Taurians, drawing from a pre-existing adaptation. Jonathan contacted me to perform in it, due to our previous working relationship (director and actor) on Unknown Soldier at Summerworks ‘ 14. I couldn’t participate as an actor, so I brazenly asked if I could try my hand at adapting it. Fortunately, Jonathan agreed, and so we began.
It is a play from the Euro classics, for sure. It has been predominantly been staged by “white” folks, for sure. But as a classicaly trained artist, I felt every right and ownership towards retelling this story, the way our collective wanted to – with all the wrinkles, misogyny, and ancient things in it.
Stories evolve, and this particular one has evolved over millenias, this is another iteration of it, in Toronto, 2019, in full colour.
HM: During your writing process, did you encounter any challenges in terms of story or characters?
JF: Absolutely. The character of Orestes is rife with familial murder, with sins and guilt that not many modern citizens would understand (such as killing his mother). There are lines in the original such as “women are so good at scheming.” There are airs of misogyny, of colonialism, of things that simply rub our 2019 world view the wrong way.
It was always a question of, do we transform these “problems,” do we question them? Or do we bring them up from the past, highlight them, and let the audience come to their own collision with them, the same way the team had to?
We decided on the latter.
HM: Once Jonathan Seinen was established as director, did both of you discuss how to cast the play to include a more diverse group of actors?
JF: Again, Jonathan was the lead vision on this project. He was always established as the director, if anything, I came later into the process, and he “established” me as the writer. He had already cast the play. In our first conversation, he spoke about how he had imagined Virgilia Griffiths as Iphigenia and Thomas Olajide as Orestes, and that was the vision I worked to fulfil. The casting of Augusto Bitter and PJ Prudat came in once the first draft was established. How fortunate we are, to have this talented and diverse group of viciously talented artists.
HM: I’m curious… how did the cast respond to the text, and what was the rehearsal process like?
JF: They were incredibly generous, and jumped right in, with all the wrinkles of the classic as well as the fact that this new version is basically a new play as well… it’s been a true gift.
The rehearsal process involved tons of conversation around our “right” to tell Euro classic stories/myths, our struggles working on classics at predominantly white institutions… but also of our own desires, wishes, and dreams, to be able to tell any story we wish to tell.
We also just had so so much fun… the piece is ultimately a comedy, so lots of laughs, and lots of foolish fun.
HM: As a POC myself, I’m very much looking forward to this production. Anything else you’d like audiences to know about Iphigenia And The Furies (On Taurian Land)?
JF: I’m never sure what to say as a “moral,” or “message” of any production, it’s absolutely up to the audience’s interpretation. But something to KNOW about the piece is that, hopefully, you’ll laugh, learn, and listen to some voices we don’t often hear. Have fun, and please join us for an evening of irrevernt, experimental fun theatre.
Saga Collective’s Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land) premiered to positive regards this week. It is currently on-stage at Aki Studio. Tickets: Pay What You Can Afford (PWYCA) $5 | $25 | $45; available by call the Box Office 416-531-1402 or online at sagacollectif.com.
All photos by Dahlia Katz Photography.