Meet the women of the Trojan War, as epic and complex as their male counterparts… in unexpected ways. Joined together for the first time, and presented in one evening, the iconic heroines of Euripides’ plays Hecuba and Helen speak to each other and to us, in both searingly tragic and surprisingly comic ways. On opposite sides of the mythic Trojan War, Queen Hecuba of Troy becomes its emblematic victim, while Helen of Sparta is reviled as its cause. Nevertheless, they persist. Despite their apparent differences, each woman turns the tables on the men who wreak havoc on their lives.
In the hands of Stanford Repertory Theater’s award-winning production team, with director Rush Rehm’s deep roots in Greek theater (he is the author of several books on Greek tragedy), these ancient stories come roaring back to life. Leading Bay Area actress Courtney Walsh portrays both Hecuba and Helen. She weaves together a portrait of two women who both reflect and reject each other, unaware of the threads that connect them. Her performance rises to stirring heights, with original music by Michael Keck, vibrant choreography by Aleta Hayes, and stunning visual effects arranged by Nima Dehghani.
Regal Hecuba is as fierce a warrior as her celebrated sons, but her only weapons are those of a defeated queen. Fueled by the smoldering rage of a childless mother, armed with nothing but grit and the clothes on her back, bolstered by a throng of enslaved women with nothing left to lose, she takes vengeance on her enemies who underestimate her to their peril.
Far from the promiscuous vixen we might expect, Euripides’ Helen never went to Troy at all! Spirited away to Egypt by a jealous goddess, she laments the pointless war waged in her name. While in exile, her humor and poise have protected her from a tireless male suitor. Now she must save her guileless “heroic” husband and use her cunning to get them safely home to Greece.
Given the current international saber rattling, and the ongoing revelations about male violence against women, SRT’s Hecuba/Helen could not be more timely. Exploring the intricate web of women’s experiences across time, the production raises questions about the role of women in the ancient world, and modern feminism. Is Hecuba infected by the male violence around her, or is her inherent violent power unleashed by circumstance? Is Helen a victim of objectification, or is she a cunning manipulator of perception? Hecuba/Helen explores these compellingly modern subjects with insight, passion, theatrical brilliance, and a daring sense of humor.
SRT’s Hecuba/Helen plays Thursday – Saturday 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m., at the newly renovated Roble Studio Theater, 375 Santa Teresa, on the Stanford campus, from July 26 – August 19, 2018. Air-conditioned. Free parking. Phone 650-725-5838, or visit stanfordreptheater.com
Following the performances at Stanford University, Hecuba/Helen travels to Athens for performances at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation Theater, September 7 – 9.
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