North Carolina Theatre (NCT) Conservatory recently staged four performances of the Greek playwright Euripedes’ The Trojan Women, at their studio in North Raleigh. Director Christine Heneghan directed two distinct casts of the Senior Acting Company, each of which performed two shows, one evening and one matinee performance. CVNC reviewed the “Athena” cast on Saturday night.
In some cases, a character was played by the same actor in both casts. Chief among them was Talthybius, a Greek messenger known and revered by the women of Troy. He was played by Jack Richardson. Also playing all four performances, eight-year-old Henry King Baker gave a silent, yet stunning, performance in the role of Astaynax, the young son of Andromeche.
Heneghan directed a stripped down, well-edited text that centers on the fates of Queen Hecuba (Maggie Hall) and her Chorus of eight Trojan women. The Greek tragedies used the concept of the Chorus both to comment on and to help move along the plot. As the play opens, dawn is breaking on the ravaged city of Troy, still burning at the hands of the triumphant Greeks. Queen Hecuba and her octet of now-widowed women stand and await their ultimate fate, to be borne away by ship to Greece, where they will live out their lives as slaves to the conquering Greeks. As the curtain rises, Talthybius enters and addresses the women, bringing news from the Greek camp in the harbor. While anticipated, the news is grim.
Hecuba, who has lost her husband and sons in the war, will be given over to Odysseus, leader of the Greek invasion. Cassandra (Abigail Shorter), her mad seer of a daughter, will become the concubine of Agamemnon. Cassandra, in her madness, dances a tribute to her Greek captors. After she is led away to Agamemnon’s ship, Hecuba’s daughter-in-law, Andromeche (Grace Briskman), wife to her son Hector, enters with their small son, Astyanax. As Hecuba and Andromeche commiserate, Talthybius returns with more debilitating news: as the son of a fallen hero, Astyanax cannot be allowed to live. It has been determined that the boy will be thrown from the top of the keep to his death. This offstage event, with the boy’s accompanying screams, ends Act I.
Act II concentrates on the ultimate fate of Helen (Lily Tendler), the young beauty over whom this war has developed. Now that her captor, Paris, is slain, Helen will be returned to her Greek husband, Menelaus (Seth Douglas), to be dealt with as he sees fit. Here, Euripedes tells us that Helen will die, once back in Greece, for her affair with Paris. Menelaus arrives to return Helen to Greece, but there will be no reunion.
NCT Conseratory staged The Trojan Women on a traditional set designed by Technical Director Bill Yates, using multiple levels and ramps, and a completely darkened surface, as if Troy was already burned. While Heneghan cloaked her women in classical, regal gowns; the men were shown in contemporary combat fatigues, signifying that little has changed in 2,400 years.
Ultimately, this play belongs to Hecuba. She suffers all manner of atrocities: she has seen her husband and sons slain in battle, her daughters are enslaved, and her city is burned at her feet. She bears all with a regal countenance. Hall delivered a nuanced performance, showing a loving pity for her mad daughter, raw anguish at the fate of her grandson, and fury at Helen. In this production, as Helen was accosted by her savage husband, Hecuba looked on in a kind of grim satisfaction. It was a small, saving grace in the flood of misery that was heaped upon this regal Queen.
Through the words of his Trojan women, Euripedes assails us with the concept that war is lunacy. We see this through the eyes of these innocent women, who are now looked upon as nothing more than the spoils of combat. A once-proud city is razed; a country destroyed. In her anguish. Hecuba speaks of war’s dark design; she tells her daughter that war is all-consuming, that it exacts a toll, even on the victors. Her words are reflected and augmented by the women who have become her maidens-in-waiting. As the morning reaches its zenith, Talthybius returns to escort Hecuba to the harbor. In a final tribute, he kneels to this woman he has only known as Queen.
NCT Conservatory is an actor-in-training school that teaches high school students the intricacies of actual staged performance. The casts of The Trojan Women are members of the Conservatory’s Senior Acting Company. It was a pleasure to watch as these budding actors plied their trade. Maggie Hall and her train gave splendid, moving performances, and the entirety of this presentation was professional grade.