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In the News: Randolph College Greek Play Featured in Local Publication

The Burg showcases 2010 performance of Hecuba (Oct. 8-10)

10/6/2010 3:50:06 PM

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The following story was published in The Burg Oct. 6, 2010. It is reprinted with permission.
By Liz Barry
News & Advance

Randolph College’s production of “Hecuba,” a Greek play by Euripides, delivers blow after blow of dark intrigue and plot twists to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

“It’s non-stop drama,” said director Amy Cohen, a classics professor at Randolph. “There’s no room to breathe in it.”

“Hecuba” debuts Friday in The Dell–the college’s natural outdoor theater–as part of a century-old tradition of performing Greek plays in that venue.

Randolph College stages a Greek play every other year with the goal of preserving the conventions of classical Greek theater. The students work for months to perfect details like the handmade masks so the play is authentic to what was seen by Greek audiences circa 400 BC.

“Hecuba” takes place in a Greek encampment during the immediate aftermath of the Trojan War.

After a 10-year siege, the Greeks have won, seizing Troy and wiping out the Trojan army. Nearly all Trojan women and children, no matter their social status, are enslaved to the Greeks.

The action centers on Hecuba, the former queen of Troy and the mother of 19 children. At the play’s start, an enslaved Hecuba has lost her former glory and is beaten down by the perils of war.

At the depth of despair, Hecuba endures great tragedy. But instead of hitting rock bottom, she rediscovers her strength and hatches a plot of bloody revenge.

Randolph College senior Sasha Budd plays Hecuba. It’s her first leading role and second theater production.

“I love it,” Budd said. “Hecuba goes through so many changes throughout the play in such a short amount of time… She’s still a powerful woman even though she’s a slave.”

Two Randolph College professors, Jay Kardan and Laura-Gray Street, translated the play to English.

“They wrote it thinking of the kind of production we were doing,” Cohen said. “It’s fits so beautifully.”

Cohen and her student chose “Hecuba” because it speaks to the effects of war and its aftermath — themes that resonate today.

“The idea of loss and dealing with loss is very prevalent and I think it speaks to everyone,” said Annie Freeman, a RC senior who plays Polydorus, Odysseus and Agamemnon.

The Greek play tradition at Randolph began in 1909, when Randolph-Macon Woman’s College professor Mabel Kate Whiteside produced Euripides’ Alcestis in Greek. She led her students in an annual production of a Greek play until her retirement in 1954.

In 2000, the Greek plays were revived by classics professor Amy Cohen with the staging of Sophocles’ Antigone.

“It was a dream of mine to be able to put the plays back on their feet,” Cohen said. “I wanted what we did here to be authentic but it not to be a museum piece.”

The plays are performed in The Dell, a replica of the standard ancient Greek theater.

Its flagstone stage, added in 1939, was designed to duplicate the exact dimensions of the stage in Epidaurus, a city in ancient Greece that was a hub for theater. Stone benches were later carved into the hillside to seat about 1,000 people.

From actors to musicians to costume designers, more than 50 people are involved with the production.

Following Greek conventions, actors play multiple parts. This year, three students play the eight speaking roles.

One of the most striking features of ancient Greek theater is that the actors wear full-faced masks made from strips of canvas and rabbit-skin glue.

The masks have an almost haunting quality, with wide eyes and open-mouthed expression that never change. The actors must use exaggerated body movements to exhibit changes in emotion.

For Freeman, playing both Odysseus and Agamemnon behind the mask was a particular challenge, since the two characters are very similar.

“They’re both Greeks. They’re both generals. They both come on and yell at people,” she said.

The masks help to amplify voices, which is crucial in a big, open space like The Dell. The actors do not use any microphones, just their own voices.

Through a mix of Greek practices and contemporary updates, like music and language, Cohen and her students are aim to make ancient theater resonate with modern audiences.

“I do really believe, as a scholar and a director, that we understand the plays better if we do it in the way that [Euripides] was writing for,” Cohen said.

WHAT: Randolph College theater production of “Hecuba” by Euripides
WHEN: 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: The Dell on the campus of Randolph College
INFO:The play is free and open to the public. No reservations or tickets required.

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations


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