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Stage Left presents a modern take on the ancient tale of ‘Hecuba’

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 21, 2019

Dana Sammond as Cassandra with Caryn Hoaglund as Hecuba in a scene from “Hecuba.” (Jennie Oliver)
Dana Sammond as Cassandra with Caryn Hoaglund as Hecuba in a scene from “Hecuba.” (Jennie Oliver)
By Stephanie Hammett For The Spokesman-Review

Friday night, the players of Stage Left Theater will open their production of Marina Carr’s “Hecuba.”

Loosely based on Euripides’ play of the same name, “Hecuba” is a retelling of the events that took place during the 28-hour period that falls between Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey.” The story follows Hecuba, the recently dethroned queen of Troy, as she and the other Trojan women face a harsh new reality.

The play opens in the throne room at Troy after Odysseus and the Greeks have overtaken the city. Hecuba and the other Trojan women are waiting to be either killed or enslaved; Agamemnon, king of the Greeks, arrives giving soldiers orders to herd them onto the ships and off to Sparta by way of Thrace where Hecuba’s youngest son supposedly survives. By the end of Euripides’ play, 17 of Hecuba’s 18 children have died, she has lost her mind to vengeance and is personally responsible for blinding a man and murdering his sons.

The adaptation that Stage Left will be performing, however, tells a much different story.

“Carr’s ‘Hecuba’ is a direct feminist response to the ‘Hecuba’ of Euripides,” director Rebecca McNeil said. “She is the protagonist in this play. She is not a vengeful, vindictive, evil woman; she is a woman who is going through as much as she could possibly go through and just trying to survive.”

In addition to Hecuba’s re-characterization, Carr’s adaptation features several other alterations to the original story, notably the the incorporation of a theory that Helen of Troy, “the face that launched a thousand ships,” and her subsequent capture by Paris, a Trojan prince, were entirely fabricated by the Greeks as a pretense to declare war on Troy.

“When Agamemnon arrives in the throne room he wants to know where Helen is,” McNeil explained. “And Hecuba says, ‘there is no Helen, and well you know it. There never was a Helen; you needed an excuse.’ ”

At its core, the play is strongly anti-war; the idea that “men create wars and women and children suffer” is a recurring theme, McNeil said.

“It goes from one dawn to the following dawn, and most of the cast is dead by the end of it,” McNeil said.

The complex and brutal subject matter aside, McNeil was first drawn to the adaptation by Carr’s unorthodox writing style, and a script that is contemporary and fast-paced.

“Everyone is telling the story to the audience and … jumping in to tell their part of the story,” McNeil said. “They don’t always match up. Agamemnon could describe Hecuba as losing it, and Hecuba is totally calm. We had a lot of discussions about whether certain lines were meant to be spoken to the audience or to the other character because a lot of it is open to interpretation.”

The style presented a significant difficulty for both speaking and non-speaking actors as it essentially required all cast members to learn everyone’s lines.

“Depending on who is telling the story it changes how the actors are preparing,” McNeil explained. “So, it’s really hard because you’re not only memorizing your own lines but everybody else’s lines. Half of or more of the characters have no lines at all, and they also have to know all of that because they’re acting out what’s being said.”

The script and subject matter required a great deal from the 21-member ensemble cast, many of whom will be making their stage debuts.

“The newer people get to learn from the more experienced people,” McNeil said. “It’s a real learning situation and, as a director, that’s my goal: that every actor breaks at least one bad habit and learns some new skill … and that I learn a dozen new things about being a better director.”

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