Iphigenia in Splott

Through Saturday, Jun. 23
Burning Coal Theatre, Raleigh

Iphigenia is one of the greatest sacrificial characters in Greek mythology. Splott, however, is a rundown section of Cardiff, Wales, best known to locals as the place where a library, swimming pool, doctor’s office, and other amenities used to be—before government funding cuts.

“They cut everything we need to make a life,” a chronic, salty-tongued young alcoholic, purposefully named Effie, tells us in playwright Gary Owen’s harrowing, challenging one-person show.

As in the ancient texts, a soldier will cruelly betray this unlikely Iphigenia. She will also be repeatedly blindsided with unfair requests involving direct self-sacrifice. But, in a departure from the ancient Greeks, Effie storms in at the start, with an epic anger just barely under control, to present us with the bill: “Tonight, you are all here to give thanks to me,” she says, adding, “Yeah, I know it’s a shock. But you lot …you’re in my debt. And tonight, boys and girls, ladies and gents, I’ve come to collect.”

Under Jerome Davis’s direction, actor Chloe Oliver shows us a transformation and depth of character we have never seen from her before. After she stops speeding through the first couple of scenes, it becomes a career-best performance. Watching Effie is not unlike watching an hour of amateur tornado footage. The damage is obvious from the opening seconds, and it only continues to unfold during her urban odyssey to a local pub, where she meets a man who might redeem her life or end it.

Though Effie’s hardly a civic-minded icon, she’s asked to take the consequences of governmental and interpersonal neglect. We shouldn’t even expect her to consider it. But she does, and then chooses her response. The results ultimately blindside us as well, in a tough, thought-provoking production.