Iphigenia in Aulis

Washington Ensemble Theatre

Through June 11.

Instead of words, Iphigenia in Aulis is full of long silences.

Innocent Iphigenia hums to herself and throws rocks into the sea. Her mother, Clytemnestra, realizes she has been tricked into delivering her daughter for a human sacrifice. There is an extended sequence of soldiers just being soldiers. They stand at attention, do some abstracted, choreographed drills, stand watch and nod off, slap at mosquitoes, and hang out, staring at nothing, giving us a chance to inspect their tattoos: a Celtic cross, "1 > ∞" and "0 = ∞," "Mad Maxwell," "alone," "myself," "carpe diem," and (um) the Space Needle. Nervous, violent, and bored, they are, Clytemnestra says, "idle soldiers—the most dangerous kind."

For a Suzuki-style meditation on the first five pages of a feminist rewrite of a Euripides play, Washington Ensemble Theatre's Iphigenia in Aulis is surprisingly cohesive. It is also like ikebana or a Doric column—severe, and a little forbidding.

WET was born out of the University of Washington's graduate theater program, and this production, directed by Lathrop Walker, bears the heavy stamp of the university's emphasis on the Suzuki method. It's an approach to theater popularized by Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in the 1970s, with an emphasis on classics—Greek, kabuki, noh—and rigorous, disciplined physicality.

Iphigenia, in turn, is all about presence, atmosphere, and bodies—barefoot characters draped in revealing robes, acrobatics, chanting, stomping, buckets of sweat. It gives only a glancing nod to its story: Agamemnon and his Greek army are loitering on the shores of Aulis, waiting to sail to Troy. But to summon the necessary wind, Agamemnon has to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, and tricks her and her mother to Aulis with a lie about Iphigenia getting married. WET's version jettisons the rest (Artemis, Orestes, Agamemnon's brother) and contains just a few dozen sentences—the entire script is the first five pages from Iphigenia and Other Daughters, an airy, lyrical play by Ellen McLaughlin (a woman most famous for playing the angel in Angels in America on Broadway).

Suzuki theater can seem dated, an obscure aesthetic that exists only for its own sake, as it did when the SITI Company of New York, cofounded by Suzuki, performed the painfully dull and pompous Death and the Ploughman at On the Boards two years ago. Iphigenia's simpler and less pretentious, but still doesn't invite us in. It is sometimes beautiful and sometimes boring, but always as cold and remote as that Doric column.

And then WET house designer Jennifer Zeyl turns the chill into something, at the play's end. When the wind enters from backstage in a spectacular scenic trick, it's like being jolted awake by a blast of cold air. The waking is more memorable than the dream.

The Secret Recordings of Lenin to His Lost Love, Mary Anne of Topeka, Kansas: A Revolution in Nine Rounds

Annex Theatre at Capitol Hill Arts Center

Through June 13.

With a title like that, who needs reviews? Those 19 words tell all. TSROLTHLLMAOTKARINR is wry, sentimental, clever, and exactly one quarter too long.

The new play by Seattle writer Brendan Healy is meta to the max, a face-off between democrats and dictators throughout history (Caesar and Brutus, Hamilton and Burr, Lincoln and Lenin) in a single Topeka neighborhood. The substance is in the jokes. There are little pet graves, with unquiet bones, on wheels. One character declares, "Love is like the Electoral College—it's flawed and favors urban centers and a few pockets of the Midwest." There is an oracle named The Personification of the Midnight Desires of Margaret Thatcher.

The central bout is between a tyrannical president of the Elysian Lanes homeowners association (who rains down fines for unmowed lawns, dirty windows, burying pets in backyards, and, as things take a turn for the surreal, "pining the loss of youth") and her challenger, a homemaker, populist, and distant descendant of Lincoln who lives in the neighborhood. (It has to be said: Choosing Lincoln as the Platonic democrat is a little odd since he appropriated presidential power and suspended civil liberties as no president had before or since until George W. Bush.)

Things fall apart in the last quarter as Healy scrambles, trying to tie up his loose ends. Relationships are mended, morals are spelled out ("There's a little Lincoln and a little Lenin in each of us"), and every problem is neatly wrapped up with a bow on top. History, in Healy's world, is messy and funny; he should relax and let his play be likewise.