Greeks bearing gifts


By Jean Racine
Translated and directed by J. Scott Reynolds
Handcart Ensemble
Red Room Theatre at KGB
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Julie Halpern

Andromaque marks the auspicious debut of an ambitious young company, focusing on new translations and adaptations of classics. Handcart Ensemble exemplifies the spirit of Off-Off-Broadway, producing exciting theatre on a shoestring budget.

Andromaque is based on characters from the Iliad and the Aeneid, with frequent references to the Trojan War, which began after a dispute over Helen of Troy. The themes of war, unresolved hatred, and unrequited love ring as true for contemporary audiences as they did in Racine's time. After Pyrrhus led the final assault on Troy, Helen's husband Menelaus rewarded him with the hand of their daughter Hermione. However, Pyrrhus unexpectedly falls in love with Hector's widow, Andromaque, and although she does not return his love decides to marry her. The scorned Hermione enlists the help of Oreste, who has fallen in love with her, to kill Pyrrhus.

J. Scott Reynolds's translation is true to Racine's text, and while refreshingly contemporary in feel, never becomes overly colloquial, like many updated classics. Reynolds also showed himself to be an excellent director, skillfully maneuvering his cast in the small space, keeping them focused at all times, and never letting them get bogged down in language.

Reynolds was fortunate in assembling a young, talented cast equal to the challenges of Racine's larger-than-life characters. Michael O'Beirne was brilliant as the tragic Oreste, undone by love and old hatreds. His handsome, athletic portrayal ran the gamut of every possible emotion, and riveted the audience throughout the performance. Barrett Ogden's Pyrrhus was a worthy rival, exuding power and sexuality, in a beautifully realized performance. Lovely Mirielle Enos was heartbreaking as the noble Andromache, willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of her child. Tatiana Bryan made the most of the supporting role of Andromaque's confidante Cephise, her face revealing a full scope of emotions, often evoking sobs from the audience. Meredith Higbee was magnificent as the self-absorbed, unhinged Hermione, and Cory Bonvillain offered a beautiful contrast as the sensible Cleone, whose every entreaty fell on deaf ears. Bonvillain's luxuriant speaking voice and delivery were truly moving.

Steven Gridley projected a magnetic presence as Pylade, but occasionally lapsed into sameness with his rhythms. Michael McCurdy brought a tightly controlled passion to the role of Pyrrhus's advisor, Phoenix.

The sets and costumes by John Davies were spare but effective, and Brad Nelson's use of ungelled lights sometimes gave the actors' faces a washed out, pasty appearance.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern