Now Reading
An Adaptation of Euripides’ ‘Hecuba’ Unwittingly Alludes to the Greek Tragedy Playing Out in Gaza

An Adaptation of Euripides’ ‘Hecuba’ Unwittingly Alludes to the Greek Tragedy Playing Out in Gaza

  • Watching the Pangea World Theater’s play in Minneapolis’ was cathartic as we contend with powerful countries continue to turn a blind eye to “wartime femicide, genocide and epistemicide.”

Watching the brilliant cast of “Hecuba” alongside a perceptive audience is a gut-punch experience. Together, we are witnessing unfold on stage everything that we have all been experiencing the last seven months or so. The rage, the disbelief, the grief, the sadness, the profound impact of a genocide unfolding before the world’s eyes, while the rest of the world sleeps, the politicians remain silent, the United Nations a mute witness to this carnage, powerless to do anything in the face of “big” brothers. 

A resolution was passed recently by the UN Security Council but it’s all too little, too late. Just ask the Palestinians who have lost their loved ones — more than 37,000 at the last count. Scores maimed and injured, children murdered, left mutilated, and so traumatized by the horrors of this war that it will have a lasting legacy on their psyche. Not to forget the forced mass migration and abandonment of their homes. Now the latest is forced starvation.

Photos, courtesy of Pangea World Theater/Bruce Silcox.

The classic Greek play “Hecuba” was written by Euripides in c. 424 BC, about the great queen of Troy, Hecuba, after Athens unleashed a war like no other war, and her subsequent revenge after her son is murdered, her husband beheaded and then the last of her two children, one sacrificed at the alter by Agamemnon to appease the gods and the other murdered. The brilliant Marina Carr, the award-winning Irish playwright takes this story and turns it on its head in her adaptation of the classic. Her Hecuba is a modern retelling of women’s suffering in times of war and genocide, and how women and children are weaponized during wars, as they get caught in the slaughter on both sides. 

Under the brilliant theatrical direction of Pangea World Theater’s Dipankar Mukherjee, her adaptation takes on a life of its own. The play opened to a packed audience on April 5 at Minneapolis’ Southern Theater and will run till April 21.

Nowhere in the play does the director or the cast reference or even offer vague hints about the present war. All has been left to the audiences’ imagination, to its perception of what is moral, and ethical in war and what is not. What is justified and for whom? “This is not war!” wails Hecuba in rage and grief. “In war, there are rules, laws, codes. This is genocide!” And we agree with her, we wail in grief with her and we watch the carnage and the suffering with her. Because we have been forced to witness all of these and more on our TV screens and in news reporting.

In the aftermath of the fall of Troy, Agamemnon, the victor, locks horns with Hecuba, the vanquished queen. Both have suffered intimate loss — the sacrifice of a daughter, and the murder of a son. In Marina Carr’s bold engagement with Euripides, there’s a demand for further bloodshed. It explores the shreds of duty and honor as well as the terrible deeds hatred breeds as it touches bravely on Hecuba’s heroic nature and ‘the endless tears of women’. Kudos to Mukherjee and his artistic team for giving us this powerhouse of a performance, ably supported by the ensemble. 

Ismail Khalidi, playwright and directing fellow at Pangea, says, “Carr’s Hecuba explores with a muscular and unadorned poetic flare the geopolitical and interpersonal consequences of machismo and male ambition.”

The choice of venue itself — The Southern Theater — with its lovely stone arches and the effect of walls crumbling walls from antiquity — adds to the performance. From lighting design by Mike Grogan, set design by Orin Herfindal, costume design by Mary Ann Kelling, composition, live music, and sound design by Bethany Lacktorin, assistant direction by Sir Curtis Kirby III, with stage management by Cassi Henning, every little detail comes together as a collective whole. 

There is no blood to be seen or any horrific body parts but the magnificent Suzanne Victoria Cross as Hacuba and Mathew Saxe as Agamemnon as well as other members of the ensemble convey every horror, every bloodshed, every atrocity and every savagery through their monologues, gestures, diegesis and use of text within text that is verbally presented. Ankita Ashrit as the prophetic Cassandra, the elder misunderstood daughter of Hecuba, Anne Guadagnino as Polyxena, Ernest Briggs* as Polymestor, Tyler Stamm as Odysseus, J. Antonio Teodoro, Nathan Berglund as Polydorus, Sudarsna Mukund, and Neel Shah — all shone brightly in their respective roles. 

Mukherjee’s use of stage props, music, gestures, and lighting as metaphors and his diverse cast and crew all speak towards the theme of the play. Wars are waged by men, but by far the biggest sufferers have been women and children through times immemorial. Indigenous actors like Briggs and Berglund, who are themselves, victims of centuries of genocidal wars, waged against their ancestors, everything happens on stage. The costumes are changed on stage, and the actors sit in a circle around the main plot unfolding at that moment, waiting, participating, and anticipating — whether a solution or more problem, we don’t know.

See Also

“As artists in Pangea, we are in search of understanding the complexity of the time we live in,” Mukherjee says in one of his teaser videos before the D-day. “Marina Carr’s adaptation of Hecuba opens one portal to our current truth. Mythology holds many answers and many secrets. Myth is the repository of truths, both spoken and unspoken. It is up to us to learn from them. In our search for collective accountability, moments are marked when our conscience is put on trial, as during the current moment. This can be covered up with the dust of rhetoric, but the truth never fails to stare at us. Hecuba asks us — can we salvage our humanity when women and children’s bodies are weaponized in the name of war anywhere in the world?”

Ismail Khalidi, playwright and directing fellow at Pangea, who adapted along with Naomi Wallace, the legendary author and politician Ghassan Kanafani’s  “Returning to Haifa” last year and directed by Mukherjee, sums up Hecuba perfectly – “Carr’s Hecuba explores with a muscular and unadorned poetic flare the geopolitical and interpersonal consequences of machismo and male ambition, as well as the tragedies of wartime femicide, genocide and epistemicide. Her re-writing of the Greek classic by painting Troy as the victim of massive war crimes is a brilliant stroke that makes us question power and abhor war itself.”

Experiencing Hecuba was cathartic. In this day and age, where powerful lobbies and countries can drown out the screams and the protests under the blanket of rhetoric, policy, or even simple aggression, it is humbling and satisfying to witness something that we can call holding out a mirror to our society as well as to our soul. “Why the children,” wails Hecuba. We have to ask ourselves the same question — how can you supply bombs that kill children, maim them, and leave them orphans to fend for themselves?

Kuhu Singh is a writer with an interest in social justice, cultural and political matters, here in the U.S., in India, and beyond.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

© 2020 American Kahani LLC. All rights reserved.

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
Scroll To Top