"Mourn the Living Hector" mixes disconnected scenes from the fall of Troy with others of a disturbed Marine in the present, never thickening into the powerful story it could have been.
By JOSHUA TANZER
We all bring our own background with us into the theater. Seldom has this been true in a more literal sense than at "Mourn the Living Hector," in which we have been provided a synopsis of "The Iliad" tucked helpfully into the program, in case we need to refresh our memory.
I brought some of my own background to this parallel story of the Trojan warrior Hector and a modern-day Marine named Mike, who is home from the war himself. The subject reminded me of an outstanding book called "Achilles in Vietnam," that uses "The Iliad" as a springboard for understanding the trauma that soldiers often bring home from combat. Just as in legend, unfortunately, "Achilles" the book gets the better of "Hector" the play.
|MOURN THE LIVING HECTOR|
|Company: Performance Lab 115.|
Written by: Paul Cohen.
Directed by: Shira Milikowsky, Julie Rossman.
Cast: Jeff Clarke, Liz Eckert, Birgit Huppuch, Rachel Jablin, Rebecca Lingafelter, David Skeist.
Sound design by: Mark Valadez.
Set design by: Chisato Uno.
Costumes by: Sarah Cubbage.
Lighting design by: Dans Maree Sheehan.
Production stage manager: Christina Morales.
Related links: Official site
|Flamboyan Theater (at CSV)|
107 Suffolk Street (at Delancey)
Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008
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The play has two notable strengths. First, nobody ever tells the story of Hector. Homer doesn't focus on him. Brad Pitt doesn't play him. He's the most brilliant fighter on the battlefield, but we don't see inside his soul the way we do with Achilles. So showing Hector and, particularly, showing the Trojan War from inside Troy is interesting.
Second, some images either physically onstage or through words appear and reappear, hinting at a hidden language of war that crosses time and borders and the line between killing and daily life. There's an easy one: a soldier wakes with a start when the ceiling fan brings back the sound of chopper blades. There are more subtle ones: A duffel bag becomes a laundry bag and a laundry bag becomes a body bag. And the images that really stick are those of war victims who have lost eyes and arms.
In Troy, Hector and Polydamas talk emotionlessly about a comrade who fell in battle, how his body was pierced and carved, like he was no more human than one of those laundry bags. In the current day, Mike has a guiltily funny conversation with a woman who works in the prosthetic-limb business. She likes it because it helps people, like children in Angola.
|A closing dialogue between Hector and his wife, Andromache, as he faces his death at the hands of Achilles and she plans for her children's slaughter and her own enslavement, is a heartbreaker.|| |
"It's gratifying. You can really make a difference," she says. "You try to be positive. You let them know things that armless kids are really good at."
"What are the armless kids really good at?" Mike asks.
"I don't know," she admits. "Climbing into tunnels?"
What is going through Mike's head? We're meant to understand he is suffering from some degree of combat trauma himself something to do with people killed, eyes ripped out and arms shorn off but little is explained. From splintered conversations we are supposed to glean more than we do. Never does Mike get a chance to explain what happened to him in the war, except apparently he killed a man. Call me a slave to conventional storytelling, but couldn't the plot have developed more, forcing him deeper into whatever he experienced over there?
The Trojan half of the play is also obtuse, but it has a point. It also doesn't delve deeply enough into the character of its hero, Hector, but it does offer scattered scenes of a people under siege, facing their own extinction. A closing dialogue between Hector and his wife, Andromache, as he faces his death at the hands of Achilles and she plans for her children's slaughter and her own enslavement, is a heartbreaker. It is clear and human.
This half, if it were more of a story and less a bundle of scenes, could have been a strong play on its own. It didn't need to be tethered to the "living Hector" half of the story for its modern relevance to have been understood and its relevance, in fact, was never to PTSD, as the Mike story suggests, but to human destruction in war. Creativity, unfortunately, intervened. As it stands, "Mourn the Living Hector" gives only a glimpse of the stunning story that the Iliad would have been if told from the losers' side.
|AUGUST 19, 2008|
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