Adapted from Euripides by Frank McGuinness. Dir. Patrick Mason. With Marsha Mason. Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
You can look at it two ways. Whenever the U.S. wages war, producing an ancient Greek drama about the ravages of battle allows a company to make a highly theatrical statement about how, throughout the millennia, people keep screwing up. Or it’s a noncommittal way of blandly proclaiming war is bad with characters who are safely mythic, lacking immediate relevance. If this phoned-in production were used as evidence A, the verdict would come down hard on the latter.
For Euripides’ tale about violence begetting violence, the director and actors have shown up for work but left their hearts and heads in bed. They punch the clock with an outward show of empty histrionics yet without the coursing blood that marks Greek tragedy’s exponentially heightened emotion. Left out to sea without directorial mooring, Mason, who, as the titular vengeance-getter, ought to be the play’s anchor, relies on such actorly tricks as perpetually clutching her chest and gasping for air. The fallen queen has lost her country and kids, but this Hecuba looks at her son’s corpse with the interest of someone glancing at yesterday’s paper.
From the vaguely wartime-looking prisoners-camp set to the imprisoned women’s somewhat war-torn yet curiously tidy dresses, Patrick Mason’s startlingly vacant, disengaged production tiptoes around the play’s fiery center without ever diving into it, while McGuinness’s indifferent adaptation also keeps everyone far from Euripides’ flame. The ancient scribe tells us war is hell; contemporary treatments like this one tell us that, mostly, war is just kind of a bother.—Novid Parsi