Perhaps the most compelling, metaphorical image in Euripides’ chronicle (newly translated by Nicholas Rudall) of what remains of life in Troy after its fall is the arrival on stage of Hector’s shield. The well-worn armour was used to protect its owner—and Andromache’s (Seana McKenna) fearless husband—from violent death in countless battles as either defender or instigator.
Now, thanks to the fabled plot of lulling the citizens of Troy into a greedy breach of security (the huge wooden horse, masking scores of Greek warriors in its belly was covered in shiny gold), all able-bodied men—including Hector and his father Priam—were surprised, overwhelmed and slaughtered by the cagey followers of Menelaus (Brady Rudy) as he sought to repatriate his power-hungry, adulterous bride (brought to glamorous/seductive life by Yanna McIntosh).
The cargo of the now master-less armament are the crushed-to-death remains of Astyanax (a silent role shared alternately by Ronan Dante Rees and Gregor Reynolds)—the only son and heir of Hector and Andromache. Letting the toddler live to mature, strengthen then inspire others to seek punitive revenge would not be tolerated by the plundering victors. All of the men were dead, their women divvied up as either slaves (Hecuba—played to perfection by Martha Henry) or mistresses; all treasures loaded into the holds of the awaiting home-bound ships even as the city burned to the ground.
Knowing their history (and that of the gods who manipulated their human-folk like ruthless plantation owners), the certainty of honour-restoring payback had to be nipped in the bud. To do otherwise would ensure an interminable cycle of wars with just one cause: an eye for an eye. In this instance, the oh-so-young boy was hurled from the highest parapet that had been built to protect all of those who’d long since seen the wisdom of banding together and erecting a defendable city (so much safer than living a nomadic existence, having to rely on the trusted few instead of the ambitious many for freedom and protection).
Shrouded in black, already bathed, further decorated with tattered Trojan garments and equally dead flowers, the lifeless broken body is ready for burial befit for a future ruler and will be carried to his shallow grave in the bronze bosom of his father’s impotent sword and spear deflector.
All of this from just one image, carefully prepared. Behold the power of the theatre—even plays written more than 24 centuries ago have relevance and significance today.
The actual text has precious few stage directions amongst the frequently long solo speeches and interventions from the chorus. This gives the director a marvellous, if daunting opportunity of creating a distinct version in all departments. For this production, Marti Maraden has made good use of the rectangular, audience-on-three-sides stage in the Tom Patterson Theatre. With few props—notably a pair of platforms to keep the gods (David W. Keeley as Poseidon, Nora McLellan as Athena) from soiling their feet on the despoiled Trojan earth and raising them above their weary subjects—the lines take on greater importance. Their costumes (designed by John Pennoyer) have a modern, military look (as do the soldiers) but there is no discernable country, giving the powerful and their enforcers a universality that could be transferred to any present-day regime of might-is-right.
As the former queen, now leader of refugees, Hecuba’s simple period costume is bereft of jewels (all “confiscated” by the victors) and the skirts muddied and frayed—another small touch that demonstrates savvy attention to detail. Henry’s speeches are direct, clear and filled with quiet introspection that is all too rare compared to the more frequent bellow-and-deliver style heard earlier in the week. Unforgettable is her deft cross-examination of Helen as she tries to lie her way out of a vengeful execution by her jilted husband.
For both acoustical and dramatic purposes, many plays from this time employ a chorus. It’s a special art in its own right to have eight individuals speak as one. Led by Trish Lindström and Jane Spidell, the pure text is a few performances away from unanimity; the sung portions fair better in ensemble but a few pitch vagaries sometimes weaken the effect—the highest of them requires more support to ring true. Marc Desormeaux as the literal one-man band has crafted an accompanying soundscape that is at one with Maraden’s vision.
Taking this eons ago voyahe is highly recommended if for no other reason than to realize how little has ever changed in the struggle for power over others. JWR