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Boro theater group’s Greek play is fit for the gods

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Hecuba, former Queen of Troy, is having a bad day.

Indeed, she's having a bad life. Her city has been sacked and burned and will be burned some more. Her husband Priam and their sons - all 50 of them - have been slaughtered by the Greeks. Her daughter Cassandra has been cursed by Apollo into having the gift of prophecy but never being believed, and is now on her way to be the sex slave of King Agamemnon. Her other daughter Polyxena has been slain at the tomb of Achilles. Her daughter-in-law Andromache, widow of the great Hector, is also going to Greece to be a sex toy, and her little grandson Astyanax is about to be thrown to his death off the battlements. Hecuba herself is destined to be the house slave of King Odysseus.

Sounds like a Sylvia Sidney movie, but it's "The Trojan Women," the fiercely anti-war play written more than 2,400 years ago by Euripides which, in this era of ethnic cleansing and atrocities in the Balkans and elsewhere, remains sadly relevant.

This latest performance was put on by the Queens-based Cypreco Theater Group at The Countee Cullen Library in Harlem last weekend, and will be performed at several venues in Queens.

The brief play begins when the masked chorus, draped in chitons, enters wailing. The masks are removed when they step forward to speak as individual characters, to be put back on when they return to the chorus. Hecuba is in nearly every scene, and Camille Mazurek plays her as a woman nearly limp with grief and horror but still holding on to some shred of queenly dignity.

Cary Patrick Martin and Tiffany Nave play Poseidon and Athena with an appropriately Olympian hauteur - you can tell they're gods because their chitons are edged with a gold key pattern, unlike the plain linens worn by the chorus.

Athena, though she was on the side of the Greeks, conspires with the god of the sea to scuttle their ships, for while in Troy they did not behave like gentleman, what with desecrating her temples and no doubt despoiling her virgins. Thus will Odysseus find himself drastically off course to provide inspiration for the likes of Homer, James Joyce and Ray Harryhausen, but that's another story.

Maechi Aharanwa is wonderful as the half-mad Cassandra, who swears to destroy the last of the house of Atreus once she's compelled to Agamemnon's bed. She also has the best wail of all the actors.

Lora Lee Ecobelli's Andromache is a bit smug when recalling her virtues as a chaste wife, as opposed to her brother's mistress Helen, but her complacency turns into nearly maddening grief when she's told that her little boy is to be killed for no other reason than the Greeks prefer not to have the son of their greatest enemy walking around. More, if she doesn't complain too much, they'll allow the child a proper burial.

Stacia French plays Helen, the origin of all this mayhem, as a cold and arrogant beauty who knows even now that her erotic charms will prevent her furious husband Menelaus, played by the muscular Michael Green, from throttling her.

Frankly, Helen's gotten something of a bad rap; the poor girl seems to have spent her life being passed from man to man like a power drill for no other reason than her beauty. But she's a woman and women, even to Euripides, a writer unusually sympathetic to the women of his time, are ripe for scapegoating.

Jeff Detweiler plays Talthybius, the Greek messenger, with a surprising humanity. He seems to genuinely dislike having to tell these former royal ladies whose slaves they're going to be, and announcing the deaths of their children.

David Mendell rounds out the cast as a member of the chorus.

The Cypreco Theater group is one of four departments of the

Cypreco of America Inc. founded in 1978. The theater group started in 1982.

"The Trojan Women" will be performed at the Flushing Library and the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows, as well as other venues throughout the city. Cypreco's third summer festival of Greek culture will also feature a performance of "The Trojan Women" as well as Greek music and dance, at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 29 at the Bohemian Hall in Astoria.

For more information call 718-626-7896.

Reach Qguide writer Arlene McKanic at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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