Ancient Greek myths and plays about them have been a fertile source for New York theatre over the past year or so. Your first thought about The Cure at Troy may be, "What another one?"
Well, you don't have to worry. The new play at the Blue Heron Arts Center may be based on a Greek play (in this case, Sophocles's Philoctetes), but The Cure at Troy is relentlessly modern.
Start with the costumes by Fang-Yi Tseng, almost fashionable in their distinct uses of strong colors such as blues, greens, oranges, and even yellow. Or study the geometric set by Roman Tatarowicz (who also did the lights), comprised primarily of sharp angles below contrasted by rounder, more imperfect hangings above.
Or look at the direction of Kevin Osborne, utilizing even part of the small auditorium to bring across the drama inherent in even the characters' entrances and exits. Even the actors, from the chorus of strong contemporary women (Sue Berch, Karla Hendrick, and Margot White) to the "handsome leading man" of Ian Oldaker look like they could have come right off the street.
Everyone is taking their cue from Seamus Heaney's script. In telling the story of the outcast Philoctetes (Jolie Garrett) who is visited by Odysseus (Rainard Rachele) and Neoptolemus (Odaker), Heaney hasn't translated Sophocles's original or merely edited it to suit his needs, but rethought and completely rewritten it from the ground up. The dialogue, with a few exceptions, would not be inappropriate in world of 2002. The situations and characterizations in The Cure at Troy exist on a more human level, clearly important to the characters, but without the life-or-death immediacy so present in most Greek plays; Heaney has brought Sophocles down to Earth.
The only real problem with The Cure at Troy is the exposition, which is not written, directed, or performed with any particular flair. As much of the backstory is necessary for understanding Philoctete's plight, some of this is perhaps unavoidable. But as Heaney so successfully updated the rest of the play, throwing out exposition as uninterestingly as he does here is a particularly inelegant solution.
But everyone is up to the task; the creative team have provided strong physical elements, and the actors all do quite well. Oldaker and the chorus members are good, and Garrett gives a very moving performance of his own. Rachele's portrayal lacks the depth present in the other performances, and can come across, at times, as little more than a one-dimensional villain.
Still, The Cure at Troy is entertaining and highly watchable. If you think you've already seen it all before, you haven't yet; the new take on the story that Heaney and Osborne provide is worth another look.
Blue Heron Theatre