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Vanessa Redgrave in Euripides' "Hecuba"

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Michael Billington reviews Vanessa Redgrave as Hecuba, in a production coming to Washington and New York. In the Sixties, Redgrave played Andromache opposite Katharine Hepburn’s Hecuba in Michael Cacoyannis’ very good film of “The Trojan Women.” It will be interesting to see what she does with the role, for those fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see her:


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I saw Hecuba on Saturday night at the Kennedy Center. Never having seen the play before, or even read it, I'm at something of a disadvantage in evaluating the strength of this production and Redgrave's performance. Still, you didn't have to be a scholar of Greek drama to notice the very pointed contemporary emphasis of this production. Tony Harrison (who bills himself in the program as "Britain's leading theatre and film poet") has jazzed up Euripides not only with questionable vernacular (i.e., "croak" for "die") but with repeated references to the victorious "coalition" forces. In case we still don't get it, some of the tents and supply containers of Es Devlin's striking set have labels like "UK 389794" and "US Lot 892179."

Redgrave's approach to the title character was to make her revenge, usually seen as an act of madness or out-of-control venom, into a calm, deliberate decision. This could be a justifiable artistic choice if the tone of the play didn't militate against it. Everyone onstage is escalating into hysterics while Redgrave stands there quietly with a sly, smug smile on her face. It didn't work for me. I've seen her do luminous theater work before, so I can only attribute her lack of impact to her approach. The highlight of the evening was Alan Dobie's long speech about the death of Hecuba's daughter.

Peter Marks, the Washington Post's drama critic, hasn't reviewed the production yet, but he has an interview with Redgrave in today's paper.

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