KEARNEY — There will be blood.
Director Jack Garrison knows that much about his production of “Hecuba,” a Greek tragedy credited to the ancient playwright Euripides and written almost 2,500 years ago.
“The play takes place exactly three days after the destruction of Troy, after the big 10 years of the Trojan war,” Garrison said. “The play is about Hecuba, who is the widow of King Priam. She was the queen of Troy. All of the males in Troy have been executed by the Greeks and they are now ready to cart all the women off to Sparta and Athens.”
The women have been stranded on the coast of Thrace.
“The play is not about war, but the aftermath of war,” Garrison said. “Hecuba’s daughter is sacrificed so that the ships can sail back to Athens. Her son has been murdered by the king of Thrace for his gold.”
The director sees the play as divided into two parts: The death of Polyxenia, Hecuba’s daughter, and Hecuba’s revenge upon everyone who has killed her children.
University Theatre at Kearney presents “Hecuba” opening at 7:30 p.m. April 6 and continuing through April 9. The show ends with a 2 p.m. matinee April 10. Admission is $10 for adults.
“‘Hecuba’ is much more topical now because of the aftermath of all the wars in the Middle East and everywhere else,” Garrison said. “There are no victors in this. There are the victims and the ones who won the war, but everyone is destroyed by the war. Everyone turns into distressed animals because of the plight of the war.”
Audience members need to remember the framework for Greek plays, such as the use of a chorus of actors that comment on the action.
Garrison said: “There’s a tremendous amount of violence in the play, but because the Greeks performed their plays on sacred grounds and theaters that were associated with temples, all the violence takes place off stage. The Greeks really enjoyed seeing the aftermath of all of this violence. There’s a lot of blood.”
All of the performers have two costumes because of the amount of stage blood.
“We’re in the process of constructing blood that is edible and will not cause allergic reactions to the cast,” Garrison said. “The science of fake blood on stage is very technical and complicated. There are several different formulas and we’re testing them out.”
In one scene, Hecuba blinds the character of Polydorus.
“We have to be careful so the blood does not affect his eyes,” the director said. “We’ve been rehearsing the play for a little over a month and Connor Dudley does the last 20 minutes of the show with his eyes closed, without sight.”
The play runs about 80 minutes, presented without an intermission.
“The way the action moves, it goes very quickly,” Garrison said.
Presenting plays such as “Hecuba” helps fulfill the theater department’s mission of offering works that give students a broad level of experience.
“The students get a chance to work with this play structure,” he said. “The play provides a combination of choral speaking and individual dialogue scenes.”
The students also gain experience with ancient Greek costumes.
As for the scenic elements, the set resembles a sea coast, complete with sand.
“We’re bringing in a dump truck load of sand and creating rocks so that you get the impression of the sea coast — and the audience is sitting in the ocean,” he said. “And the Greeks loved ghosts so we’re bringing the ghost of one of Hecuba’s children up from Hades. The tech people have constructed an elevator that will come from below, right up onto the stage.”
Historically, ancient Greek theater techs did the same thing by constructing simple elevators.
“Characters from Hades and Hell always came from below and the Gods always came from above,” Garrison said. “Thankfully we don’t have to fly anyone in this play, we just have to bring them up from Hell. It’s a powered elevator and the character comes up in the fog and the thunder and the lightning, a spirit from the dead.”