Monday, July 30, 2018

Stanford stages double bill of Greek classics

Courtney Walsh, seen with the chorus, plays Hecuba for Stanford Repertory Theater. (Photo by Frank Chen)

Stanford Repertory Theater is marking its 20th summer festival with an ambitious undertaking by presenting two Greek classics of the fifth century, Euripides’ “Hecuba” and “Helen.”

Artistic director Rush Rehm, who also directs, translated and adapted them from the ancient Greek. The program credits Courtney Walsh, who plays both title roles, also as translator and adapter.

The results are somewhat mixed mainly because the level of acting is mixed. Walsh does well in both roles, but, like some of her colleagues, she sometimes over-acted.

Hence, “Hecuba” sometimes comes across as melodramatic.

However, its plot tends to be interesting because of the intrigue. Hecuba and other Trojan women are slaves after the Greeks conquered Troy and killed nearly all of the men in about 1184 B.C.

Hecuba has already lost her husband, King Priam, and some of her children. Now the Greeks want to sacrifice her daughter Polyxena (Lea Claire Zawada), to honor the slain Achilles.

After Polyxena goes willingly to her death, Hecuba learns that her youngest son, Polydorus (Shayan Hooshmand), has been killed by King Polymnestor of Thrace (Joe Estlack) in a grave violation of the laws of hospitality.

Hecuba and her women exact revenge by killing Polymnestor’s two young sons and blinding him.

As this play ends, Walsh transforms herself from the grieving old Hecuba to the glamorous Helen.

In “Helen,” it’s revealed that a phantom, not Helen, was sent to Troy, sparking war with the Greeks. In the meantime, she has taken refuge in Egypt, where she is reunited with her husband, Menelaus (Estlack).

She uses artifice to allow herself and Menelaus to escape from her host, King Theoclymenus (Doug Nolan), who wants to marry her.

Both plays include a chorus of women who sometimes dance (choreography by Aleta Hayes) and sing (music by sound designer Michael Keck) to propel the action.

The set and costumes by Connie Strayer are relatively simple, but they’re enhanced by Nima Deghani’s projections. Lighting is by Michael Ramsaur.

The production takes place in a black box theater that’s part of Roble Gym, which has been recently renovated for use by the performing arts. 

This courtyard is just outside the Roble StudioTheater. (Stanford photo)
It’s an inviting setting next to a rosemary-scented courtyard with a fountain.

After its Stanford run, the production will be presented Sept. 7-9 in Athens, Greece, featuring Walsh with a Greek cast.

Besides the two plays, SRT’s summer festival, dubbed Nevertheless They Persisted, includes a free Monday night film series, an all-day symposium, and an evening course, “Euripides Our Contemporary,” which began in late June.

Running about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, “Hecuba/Helen” continues through Aug. 19 in the Roble Studio Theater, 375 Santa Teresa, Stanford.

For tickets and information, call (650) 725-5838 or visit