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Kristin Linklater and Heather Tom in Hecuba
(Photo © David Gochfeld)
Hecuba is called "the queen of sorrow." Euripides' Hecuba, set three days after the end of the Trojan War, follows the former queen of Troy on her worst day, during which she has much to lament. Friendly Fire presents a rare revival of this ancient Greek tragedy, starring renowned voice teacher Kristin Linklater in the title role. Unfortunately, while the play itself is packed with powerful emotions, the production is unlikely to move its audience.

The wife of Priam, King of Troy, Hecuba bore her husband 50 children. By war's end, only three were still living: Cassandra, the mad prophetess taken by Agamemnon (Mike Genovese) as his mistress; Polydorus (Lucas Blondheim), her youngest son, sent to live with King Polymestor (Christopher McCann) of nearby Thrace; and Polyxena (Heather Tom), her daughter, who was captured along with Hecuba and other Trojan women, all of them now awaiting lives of slavery to their Greek captors. What happens to Cassandra is well known: She is destined to die at the hands of Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra. In Hecuba, Euripides reveals the final fates of the queen's remaining two children and the terrible vengeance that Hecuba exacts upon Polymestor for his bloody betrayal of her son.

Director Alex Lippard seems determined to show that the play is steeped in emotion, but the end result is that much of it falls flat. Linklater puts on the appearance of grief, but it's not very convincing; instead of actually connecting with the material, she employs melodramatic gestures and pitches her voice to suggest the depth of feeling of her character. McCann fares better, throwing himself whole-heartedly into a plaintive wail as he pleads his case against Hecuba to Agamemnon.

Blondheim, who opens the play as the ghost of Polydorus, is captivating as he relates his story; his movements are slow and dance-like, his voice crisp and clear. Tom's Polyxena is fairly bland; she plays only the surface of the role, intoning the words without bringing them to life. Curzon Dobell is a staunch, quietly menacing Odysseus, and his exchange with Hecuba is one of the more interesting within the play -- partly due to its theme of political necessity, which resonates strongly today.

The audience is split into two sections facing each other, with the cast performing in a long narrow strip between them. At times, this causes the actors to turn around more frequently than seems normal so as to better show their faces to the different sides. But Erik Flatmo's minimalist set makes use of the playing space -- which has two large supporting columns running through it -- fairly well. Aaron Black's lighting and Rebecca Dowd's modern-dress costumes also work nicely, and the use of long strips of white and red cloth to symbolize the deaths of certain characters provides a theatrical flourish.

Hecuba features original music by Allison Leyton-Brown and Kaveh Nabatian, performed live. It's most effective during the choral sections, as the women of Troy (Phyllis Johnson, Dale Soules, and Kathleen Turco-Lyon) lament Hecuba's fate and their own. In the end, however, the success of the production depends upon the strength of its leading lady, and Linklater doesn't deliver.

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