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Touring the Ivies with Iphigenia, 1915


Niall W. Slater


Bringing Euripides to America was not part of Harley Granville Barker's original plan for his 1915 tour with Lillah McCarthy. While he had produced Gilbert Murray's translations in Britain earlier, he told the American newspapers that his inspiration to stage Euripides outdoors, in conditions like those of the ancient theatres, came to him while visiting the Yale Bowl---whence his tour of The Trojan Women and Iphigenia in Tauris began. With war in Europe and Britain's need for at least sympathetic neutrality from America, Trojan Women seems an obvious choice, and its sober production and respectful reception accorded well with contemporary audience expectations. Iphigenia in Tauris, in a primitivist, "expressionist" production designed by Norman Wilkinson, was much more surprising and controversial. Photographs by a Yale undergraduate, Donald Cummings Fitts, and apparently unnoted by scholarship for nearly a century, help recapture the shock of those designs, while reviews illuminate their daring color schemes. Barker as well as Wilkinson vigorously defended their choices at the time, but while some reviewers joined the Yale undergraduates in laughing at some effects, Iphigenia drew just as well as her more somber sister. Women sharply predominated in at least one audience, raising the question of a gendered reception. Changing public taste, economics, competition from spectacle in movies, and the vagaries of star culture help account for trends away from Barker's large-scale productions after the war.

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