An edgier take on ‘Iphigenia’

As one of the Bay Area’s most accomplished actors, L. Peter Callender has played an impressive variety of roles, from classics to contemporary works. In his new role as the artistic director of African-American Shakespeare Company, he’s producing a play that’s a little of both.

Callender will be onstage, as well as behind the scenes, when the company opens its 16th season with Colin Teevan’s “IPH,” an edgy adaptation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia at Aulis.”

The play makes its U.S. premiere this week as a co-production of African-American Shakespeare Co. and the Brava Theater.

Directed by Dylan Russell, it features Callender as Agamemnon, C. Kelly Wright as Klytaimnestra and Traci Tolmaire as Iphigenia.

When Callender first read “IPH,” he was astonished by its blend of classic Greek drama and up-to-the-minute resonance.

“It’s a brilliant play,” Callender says. “It’s got war, death, sacrifice and betrayal, music, everything. It’s beautifully structured — and so contemporary.”

Teevan’s play, which debuted in 1999 at Ireland’s Lyric Theatre, recounts a gripping episode from the start of the Trojan War.

Under Agamemnon, the Greeks are prepared to sail to Troy and recapture Helen, kidnapped by the Trojan prince Paris. But gods are withholding the kind of weather conducive to action.

As the drums of war beat ever louder, Agamemnon yields to political pressure and makes a deal with the goddess Artemis: He’ll sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, in exchange for favorable winds.

The production incorporates music and surreal imagery in a fantasia of war and politics.

“I think people will be surprised,” says Callender. “It moves, it dances. It ain’t your daddy’s Greek play.”

Agamemnon, he adds, is drawn in strikingly contemporary terms. “He’s a very powerful man,” says Callender. “I see him as a good man in a very tenuous situation. He’s a family man. He loves his wife and family. He’s also a politician. He was elected, he kissed the babies and now people are saying ‘Do something.’”

Callender’s clearly excited about the play — and thrilled about his new role at the helm of African-American Shakespeare.

Later this season, the company will revive its holiday production of “Cinderella.” In April, Callender will direct Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” with an original score by jazz master Marcus Shelby.

Collaborations with other theaters are also in the works.

Beyond that, says Callender, the possibilities are endless. “Since coming on board, I’ve been getting calls and support from all over the country,” he says. “The company is now getting a national footprint, and it’s our job to maintain it.”

IF YOU GO

IPH

Presented by African-American Shakespeare Company and Brava Theater

When: Previews at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday; opens at 8 p.m. Monday; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 16

Where: Brava Theater, 2781 24th St., San Francisco

Tickets: $15 to $35

Contact: (415) 647-2822, www.brava.org, www.African-AmericanShakes.org

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