Friday, October 08, 2004


A long post. Sorry.

So as I mentioned, last night I went to see the Friendly Fire Theatre's production of Hecuba by Euripides. As my dear friend Zenchick might say, "Oy."

Da Play
Hecuba tells the story of the Queen of Troy after the fall of the city. She and the other women are slaves. The Greeks want to head home, but the ghost of Achilles refuses to let them until the slave girl he chose to be his is put to death, providing him with a concubine in the afterlife (more or less). That slave girl is Polyxena, Hecuba's daughter. Much like Iphigenia, Polyxena's death will allow the Greeks to set sail.

Hecuba pleads for her daughter's life, but the daughter is killed. As a slave to the Greeks, she has to bear this horror.

Another part of the story is the death of Hecuba's son Polydorus. Her youngest son, he was sent to Thrace with a great deal of treasure in hopes that he would survive should Troy fall. Troy did, but the King of Thrace killed Polydorus, took the gold and threw the body into the sea where it was found (as luck would have it) by Hecuba's women. Despite her status of slave, she is allowed to take her revenge on the Thracian king, for he not only broke his vow of hospitality toward her son, but he desecrated the body and denied it proper burial (both of which are big things to the ancient Greeks).

The end of the play is a typical Euripidean blood fest where the women blind the Thracian king, Polymestor, and kill his sons. Not quite as gruesome as Pentheus' death in Bacchae, but along those lines.

Da Production
Minimal sets (black sheeting on the floor, a few flats and curtains to cover entrances and exits, partially translucent sheeting to give the impression of a tent). Fine, I'm cool with that. Theater isn't about spectacle, it's about the actors and the story (in my humble opinion). Okay lighting, though a little too much spillage into the audience for my tastes. Costumes, non-descript modern dress. Fine. Though putting the Greeks in modern American military uniforms was a little too on the nose. Come on, we can put two and two together without having it waved in our faces.

There were some really interesting theatrical moments. Polymestor's children, after being murdered, come out of the tent dragging long pieces of blood red fabric. The fabric is being held by Polymestor over his eyes. Using this simple prop, the director (Alex Lippard) was able to show the death of the sons, the blindness of Polymestor, and by having the children carrying the cloth that ends with him, connect their deaths to his actions. It was beautiful, simple and effective. And when the fabric was pulled away to reveal the actor's face, his eyes had been smudged with black makeup, reinforcing the idea of blindness, but allowing the actor to see as the scene progressed.

There was another moment when Polydorus appears as a ghost with another piece of fabric, this time white. By folding the fabric and handing it to one of the servants, he effectively transforms it from a piece of his costume or his prop, into his corpse which the servant then carries to Hecuba. Again, simple and effective.

That's why I was so disappointed by the way the director indicated that a person was dead; their costume had a big splotch of red paint (or something similar) on their abdomen. Okay, it made it obvious they were dead, but where was the art? Where was the symbolism? Why would someone who'd had their throat cut bleed from the belly? No answers, I'm afraid.

He did tie in the dead characters symbolically with the use of white. That was a stronger representation than the red splotch. Polydorus, who is only seen as a ghost, wears white. Polyxena wears white (both before and after her death, which I wouldn't have done). Once the children are killed, they go from wearing suits to wearing white undershirts and boxers. That worked for me. The splotches of blood didn't.

My major problem with the production, however, was unfortunately central to the director's vision (or so it would seem); the stylized use of voice. Hecuba was played by Kristin Linklater, an actress well-known and well-regarded for her work with theater voice and speech training. This woman can do things with her voice that are amazing.

And she did. Screams. Hisses. High, flute-like notes followed by deep, raspy ones. Monologues that started low and soared, only to return. Quiet sentences full of venom. Rages that shook the walls. It was technically brilliant.

But what happens when you spend an entire play completely aware of an actor's technique? You don't get absorbed into the action.

There were times when it faded into the proper dimensions. The technique was still there. The vocal 'tricks,' for want of a better word, were still there, but they were balanced with powerful acting and movement so that Hecuba became more than the sum of her parts. In those moments, the play was wonderful. But they were few.

Other things grated a little as well. The blocking seemed awkward. When the actors were still, the stage pictures they created lacked balance and focus. The Greek soldiers, during the painful times they made appearances, seemed not to know why they were onstage or what they should be doing; marking time until their next piece of business.

In direct opposition to the Greek soldiers were the chorus of Trojan women. Sure, some of their stage business seemed forced, but their their keening, crying, singing, etc., was subtle enough not to be overpowering. Their movements (when they were to be the focus of the action) were sinuous and strong. They looked a little lost when they were mere observers to the action, but I'll assume that they were merely trying to act like shocked captives.

All in all, I wish this had been a better production. It really should have been. So many of the elements were there, but they just never really meshed.

Da Epilogue
One final note to the cunt and her arselicking boyfriend who were sitting next to me. I don't care if you don't like the production or the acting or whatever. You do not sit on the front row of a black box theater, in full view of the actors, and read a fucking magazine. You do not giggle and chat while the performance is going. If you dislike it, sit there and deal until you can get up and discretely leave.

Regardless of what you think of the production, those actors are working their asses off and deserve our respect and attention while they do it.

People like those two shouldn't be allowed out in public.


Zenchick said...

Oy, indeed.

Anonymous said...

thanks for coming to see HECUBA. yeah, it was shaky, but got better, and by the time the reviewers came Sunday, it was a hot show, despite its holes.
btw your rubgy team is very hot! maybe i should hang out at townhouse more often...

Crash said...

Interesting. I'm glad that it came together. I might have to stop by and see it again.

You'll have to stop by and see a rugby game some time. Not quite the same as a play, but quite a bit of drama in its own way.