Presented by Friendly Fire as part of the Hellenic Festival at 45 Bleecker Theatre, 45 Bleecker St., NYC, Oct. 7-30. Casting consultant: Deborah Brown.
Within the intimate confines of the Culture Project's downstairs space, director Alex Lippard and a formidable company of 17 actors managed, remarkably, to conjure the brutal grandeur of Greek tragedy in this production of Euripides' "Hecuba." The play tells of the fate of Hecuba, vanquished queen of Troy, who, during the course of the play, must endure the deaths of two children: her daughter sacrificed by the Greeks as a tribute to their fallen hero Achilles and her son murdered by a treacherous friend. The 2,400-year-old play vibrates with contemporary relevance, dramatizing the anguish of war and the miseries of its victims, the inhumanity heightened by political expediency.
The production's centerpiece is the riveting portrayal of Hecuba by Kristin Linklater, well known as a teacher of voice and Shakespeare. In mercurial fashion, she evinces the agonizing desperation of a powerful woman reduced to slavery under her adversaries, the wrenching emotions of a mother pleading for her daughter's life, and, in the shattering climax, the fury of a bloodthirsty near-monster seeking revenge for her son's murder. It's high-style acting, tempered with compelling modernity.
Linklater is surrounded by strong performances. Among them are Christopher McCann in a harrowing turn as the victim of Hecuba's avenging spirit, Mike Genovese as a sensitive but pragmatic Agamemnon, and Helmar Augustus Cooper as the messenger who must overcome emotion to tell Hecuba of her daughter's courageous death.
William Arrowsmith's translation is notable for clarity and striking imagery. Lippard's inventive staging makes striking use of the playing space's structural columns and stairway. Together with Aaron Black's lighting design, they give the surroundings a classic ambience. Costumes by Rebecca Dowd effectively mingle contemporary looks with flowing silhouettes, and original music composed and performed by Allison Leyton-Brown and Kaveh Nabatian, coupled with Leyton-Brown's sound design and musical direction, add to the intensity of this gripping tale.