“HECUBA” at 6th @ Penn Theatre & “THE LAST FIVE YEARS” at North Coast Repertory Theatre
KPBS AIRDATE: November 26, 2004
Tragedy at the global and the local level. At 6th at Penn Theatre, the gut-wrenching Greek classic, “Hecuba.” And at North Coast Repertory Theatre, “The Last Five Years,” a modern romance gone awry. The chamber musical chronicles the rise and fall of a marriage; the drama recounts a woman’s descent from royalty to slavery, from gentility to inhumanity.
Euripides, probably the most controversial anti-war poet of his era, wrote his play in wartime, and that makes it especially relevant. The playwright insults the politicians of the 5th century B.C., who care more for power than people. His drama, about the enslaved Trojan queen, concerns justice and revenge, superstition and female self-empowerment. Marianne McDonald is in her element, and her crystalline translation sparkles. At 6th @ Penn Theatre, director Esther Emery has marshaled a superb team. Her husband, Nick Fouch, has designed a starkly evocative desert set. Ashen Butoh dancer Charlene Penner provides a haunting, spectral presence. At the center is Robin Christ, who gives a marvelous, multi-faceted performance as the regal woman beset by unremitting disaster, as her children are murdered, one by one. Jesse McKinnon is powerful as the ultimate cause of Hecuba’s despair and the object of her wrath. This is retribution of the eye-for-eye variety. The production is potent, though the play is agonizing. But war is hell, and revenge is never sweet.
There might have been a bit of a revenge fantasy in the writing of the autobiographical musical, “The Last Five Years.” Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown got a little too close to the bone, and his ex-wife filed a lawsuit. A few nips and tucks and the song-cycle was ready for Off Broadway, two Drama Desk Awards and about 100 productions nationwide. There are two sides to every breakup story, and we get ‘em both, in opposite order. Jamie, the arrogant Jewish writer, begins after their first date; Cathy, the uber-shiksa actress, starts with his Dear John letter and departure. After a series of solos, they meet briefly in the middle of the breathless, intermissionless act, to marry and then go their separate ways again.
The play’s structure is imaginative, and Brown’s music is appealing, his sophisticated lyrics by turns biting, poignant and witty. The North Coast Repertory Theatre production, directed by Peter Ellenstein, is a bit static; there’s little movement or change, and the costumes are unvarying. Erin Cronican is adorable as Cathy, but she often seems to be straining under the vocal demands of the role. Jeremiah Lorenz is terrific — charming, charismatic and funny, proving yet again his immense, triple-threat talent. These two characters do everything but interact; that is the play’s strength and its weakness. But everyone can relate to some aspect of the relationship roller-coaster. If you have to be miserable, at least do it in song.
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.