Javert, Judge Brack, Abigail Williams -- all these nasty dramatic characters could rightfully be called stinkers. But if you want a real, literal stinker, you have to go back to Sophocles and his pathetic but ultimately heroic character, Philoctetes.
Irish poet and 1995 Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney recently adapted that play into The Cure At Troy, which starts previews Nov. 21, at NYC's Jean Cocteau Repertory Off-Broadway. The drama is scheduled to run through Feb. 12, 1998.
Philoctetes, cursed with a wound that gives off an offensive stench, has been exiled to an island. Now, however, Odysseus, the very Greek who exiled him, needs Philoctetes' magic archery bow. The Greeks must convince an understandably bitter Philoctetes to return with them and lead them to victorious battle. Heaney has called Troy a "version" of Philoctetes, rather than an adaptation or translation.
Heaney was born in 1939 in Country Derry, Northern Ireland. In 1984, he was elected the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard, and served for two years as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University. His works include 11 books of poetry, 2 books of criticism, and one play: The Cure at Troy .
Starring in Troy are Rep vets Craig Smith (Philoctetes) and Elise Stone (Smith's real-life wife), alongside Charles Parnell, Tim Deak, Christopher Black, Tracey Atkins and MaryEllen Taylor. Designing the show are Robert Klingelhoeffer (set), Margaret A. McKowen (costumes) and Brian Aldous (lighting), all of whom worked on last season's Mother Courage. Cocteau Rep's resident composer, Ellen Mandel, will contribute an original score to Troy. *
Still in rep at the Cocteau is Hedda Gabler, which began Sept. 26 and was scheduled to end Nov. 30 but has been extended to Dec. 19.
In Gabler, Henrik Ibsen looks at an unconventional lady stuck in a conventional marriage. Hedda's not a happy woman, wed as she is to a dull man, dodging the connivings of a local judge, and pining for a neurotic poet.
Eve Adamson directs Ibsen's drama (translated by Rolf Fjelde), which last starred Kelly McGillis on Broadway. Harris Berlinsky and Elise Stone play Tesman and Hedda; Craig Smith plays Judge Brack. All are Cocteau Rep veterans.
Director Adamson notes that treating the show as a star vehicle "[violates] the deep and delicate art of Ibsen's portraiture." She also ditched the usual "crowded Norwegian living room" set design for something more spare -- a concept of "line, weight and vivid color." Ellen Mandel will contribute original piano compositions to the staging, which officially opened Sept. 28.
Also coming up in the Rep season:
The Man In The Glass Booth (prev. Jan. 6, 1998; Through April 1998)
Eve Adamson directs this darkly psychological piece by Robert Shaw (yes, the "Jaws" Robert Shaw) about an eccentric real estate developer accused of being a sadistic Nazi officer.
The Imaginary Invalid (prev. March 13, 1998; Through May 1998)
In Moliere's farce, protagonist Argan proves to be "as wealthy as he thinks he is unhealthy," making him the target of charlatans and an avaricious wife. Luckily, Argan's maid is the smartest one in the household.
Founded in 1971, Jean Cocteau Repertory uses a resident company of actors to bring American and European classics to Off-Broadway. The company is located in the olde-timey Bouwerie Lane Theatre on New York's Lower East Side. For tickets ($20-$29) and information on the season, call (212) 677-0060.
-- By David Lefkowitz