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Adapted by George McWhirter
Blackbird Theatre
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
Dec. 28-Jan.12
604-280-3311 or

‘Tis the season to be jolly, make New Year’s resolutions and buy big-screen TVs at discount prices.  But it’s also the end of a year when Iraq, Afghanistan and Benazir Bhutto are in our thoughts. Blackbird Theatre focuses our minds on those latter subjects through the lens of a 2400-year-old Greek tragedy.

Euripides set this grim play in the aftermath of the Trojan War.  The Greeks, having triumphed, stop over on the island of Thrace on their way back home with the Trojan women as their prisoners, chief among them Queen Hecuba.  Her husband Priam, King of Troy, is dead. So are most of her sons, including the great warrior Hector. 

In the course of the play she’ll lose one of her two surviving daughters, Polyxena, whom the Greeks sacrifice to placate the ghost of the dead Greek warrior Achilles.  She’ll also lose her last son, Polydorus, murdered for his gold by the Thracian king Polymestor, who promised to protect him. Hecuba will get revenge on Polymestor but it will be cold comfort for all her losses.

John Wright’s production of George McWhirter’s new adaptation is stark and powerful. On a bare stage in shades of brown and gold, robed in Marti Wright’s traditional-looking costumes, seven actresses play Hecuba, her chorus, her children, and the Greek and Thracian men who torment her.  From time to time the large wall behind them becomes a screen for Tim Matheson’s projections of bombed-out cities, crowds of desperate people, and victims of more recent wars.

The performances are uniformly excellent, beginning with Linda Quibell’s strong, dignified Hecuba, who suffers more than any one person should ever have to, but never resorts to pathos. Laara Sadiq is the chorus leader, Nicola Lipman plays Hecuba’s sharp-tongued servant, and Anna Cummer doubles as both of Hecuba’s doomed children.

The other actors transform from chorus members to the various men by donning masks with the formal help of stage attendant Tomoko Hanawa.  Carmen Grant becomes the slimy Greek generals Odysseus and Agamemnon, Mia Ingimundson plays the sympathetic Greek Talthybius and Lesley Ewen the treacherous Polymestor, whose two sons, victims of Hecuba’s revenge plot, are cleverly evoked as stitching on the inside of his robe.

McWhirter’s translation manages to be clear and conversational while maintaining the formal rhythms and sounds of the original, as when Hecuba laments that her doomed daughter will be “mired in the sour misery of an untimely tomb.”  It also has funny moments, like the servant’s wicked reference to “sweet-tongued, arse-licking Odysseus.”

This terrible episode in another Middle Eastern war concludes with the haunting chant of an utterly unoptimistic Greek choral verse, “necessity is harsh.”

Happy New Year.

Jerry Wasserman