‘Andromache’ Sees Highs and Lows

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Published May 3, 2016
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The Montclarion
Left to right: Rajula Joshi (Chorus), Alexandra Grasso (Chorus), Liam Lawless (Theseus), Tiffani Waters (Thetis), Melanie Garzon (Chorus) and Jan Verstraete (Peleus) on Friday's performance of "Andromache." Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch
The Greek Theatre Group performing a scene from their production of “Andromache.” Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

The Greek Theatre Group performing a scene from their production of “Andromache.”
Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

Euripides’ “Andromache,” a play about the aftermath of the Trojan War, saw its debut last week after months of planning. The performance made use of the often-empty amphitheater on campus, re-creating the outdoor setting in which ancient Greek plays were originally performed.

This production of “Andromache” embraced the play’s maritime setting, with ambient sounds of calling gulls and waves crashing throughout the play, courtesy of amplifiers on stage. Mortal characters and Nereids flocked to the temple of Thetis, a sea goddess and the mother of Achilles, with many characters robed in white, aqua, blue and purple.

Similar to the waves thematically evoked throughout, this production had its high and lows, at some moments soaring, while other areas needed a bit more pruning to make a fluid and cohesive story.

In terms of high points, the acting in “Andromache” soared, with strong leads across the board. Julia Montalvo, who played the titular character, never wavered in her solid performance of a suffering slave who was once part of Troy’s royal court. Paired with the equally talented Gina McCrostie as Hermione, these ladies dominated, earnestly delivering the difficult emotions of rage and sorrow clearly and effectively.

Other standout performances were Daniel Salazar’s Menelaus and Professor Christopher Parker’s portrayal of Peleus, which he took on for the Tuesday and Thursday shows. Salazar’s booming and crystalline voice gave the authority needed to the self-righteous King of Sparta, and his comedic timing and delivery were nigh perfect. Parker touchingly played the role of aging Peleus, and when he faced off against Salazar in the middle of the play, all eyes were on the bickering kings.

Julia Montalvo (Andromache) and Gina McCrostie (Hermione) face off as Thetis and her attendant look on. Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

Julia Montalvo (Andromache) and Gina McCrostie (Hermione) face off as Thetis and her attendant look on.
Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

Another high point was the set design. Thetis’ altar was beautifully decorated, and the shield of Achilles was a nice touch that helped connect Neoptolemus to his father’s story for those unfamiliar with the family connections behind the play. The altar’s movement across the stage was suitably ethereal, and impressive considering the low budget for mechanics.

The look of the stage offered an orientation to the audience which the costume design also enhanced, letting viewers know that this was not going to be a full modernization of a Greek play, but an attempt to offer a modern audience at least a glimpse of what an ancient Greek tragedy might have looked like in Euripides’ day.

Coming off of those heights to middle ground, however, were the inconsistent choral performances. These musical numbers fluctuated from strong to lackluster. “I Wish I Could Be A Dark-winged Bird,” a duet between Hermione and her nurse, portrayed by Alexandra Grasso, was a lovely song with some nice choreography to match. Other songs, however, weren’t on-par with this one. McCrostie, Montalvo and Grasso all in particular had musical talent, especially Grasso, who sang her heart out in every performance, which certainly didn’t go unnoticed.

Garzon, Grasso behind Vestraete as Peleus. Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

Garzon, Grasso behind Vestraete as Peleus.
Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

In general, however, the music seemed under-rehearsed. The instrumentalists were hesitant, and their transitions from accompanied to acapella seemed more like mistakes than deliberate choices. Many of the lyrics did not come out clear, which is especially detrimental in “Andromache,” because the songs often tell important backstory, like the death of Andromache’s husband and infant child. More chorus members may have been the solution, but since there were no problems with “I Wish I Could Be A Dark-winged Bird,” my guess is that some songs just needed more practice to be truly successful.

Additionally, there was more than one moment in the play where it was obvious someone had missed a cue, sometimes leaving 10 to 15 seconds of silence before someone stepped in with a line to save the day. This isn’t a horrendous offense, but it certainly broke the flow of some scenes, making the third act choppy at parts and disrupting the pace set, demonstrating that perhaps transitions between character speeches needed more focus during rehearsal time.

Grasso, McCrostie and Joshi. Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

Grasso, McCrostie and Joshi.
Photo courtesy of Joanna Madloch

There is no question that “Andromache” is an exceptionally difficult play to pull off, especially for viewers without a strong background in classical mythology. It is not well-read by students, but on top of that, it relies heavily on an established knowledge of the subject matter. For the most part, I felt that the performers tackled the play well, especially in the quality of acting and staging. In terms of clarity, there were people sitting next to me frequently asking me and each other what exactly was happening on stage and who the characters were, which is not necessarily uncommon for Greek plays, but goes to show that the performance wasn’t as precise as it needed to be in some places to convey the plot successfully to the audience.

Seeing a Greek play in an amphitheater is not a chance most people get to take advantage of in college, and going to see “Andromache” offered a taste of an authentic Greek play, along with some really excellent acting from the student body. With a little work, next year’s performance could improve some of the shortcomings of this year’s “Andromache” and deliver a play that soars throughout.

 

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