A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
Cruel and Tender

Sophocles’ “Trachiniae” deals with the all-time number one mythic hero Hercules and centers upon his wife’s revenge for deserting her for another woman. It played at the Chichester Festival Theatre (a short train ride from London) after a sell-out run in London.  Fearful of losing Hercules’ love, and wishing him to remain faithful, his wife has procured from the Centaur a charm that will do so.  She sends the charm to Hercules, only to learn that it has inflicted horrible physical suffering, the Centaur’s revenge. In Martin Crimp’s stunning adaptation, in a modern-dress production by Luc Bondy, Kerry Fox as Amelia nervously awaits the General’s arrival from his war against terrorists in Africa.  She paces the floor, in the recreation room set by Richard Peduzzi, replete with bar and biomorphic furniture, as she works out on her gymnastic equipment and is massaged by a physical therapist, one of her three attendant women who make up the chorus that also includes a beautician and a housekeeper. Having heard nothing from the General, she sends her teen-aged son to Africa to bring her word of his father. A front-man for the General arrives with a beautiful, young African woman (Georgina Ackerman) and a child, and declares they have been sent by the General who will take them in as refugees, the last survivors of the town he has decimated to clear out the terrorists. “If you want to root out terror there is only one rule: kill,” he declares. After he deposits them with Amelia, a journalist arrives with a different story: the woman is the General’s lover and he has pulverized the town because her father refused to give her to him.  In a pillow, Amelia conceals the charm she hopes will reawaken the General’s love and gives it to the front man to deliver to the General.

Shedding her casual clothes and appearing in a dazzling red gown, her hair styled, wearing heels, Amelia awaits news from the airport of the General’s return.  Instead, her son arrives with a shattering description of the suffering of the General as a result of the charm (the revenge of a former radical boyfriend). Ms. Fox attains the high tragedy required of this role as drinks the liquor readied for the homecoming, shatters the glasses, bloodies her hands, overthrows the furniture, and storms out to drive to the airport, but instead, as is reported, commits suicide by running the motor in the closed garage.  An even worse sight is the ravaged body of the General (Joe Dixon) as he awakes on the bed naked and bleeding, catheter in place, and is dressed by the women of the chorus who put him in a wheelchair as he storms and rages. His former fawning front-man is now his accuser, wheeling him out to the court to be tried as a war criminal.

David Lan, director of the Young Vic, explains that Mr. Bondy discovered Sophocles’ play while researching Handel’s opera Herakles “and found in it something that resonated with a world seeking to justify the invasion of Iraq.  And if we constantly go back to the Greeks, it is because of the immediacy of their engagement with the world.  Sophocles used a myth the audience all knew to comment on his own time; in a similar way we are using Sophocles’ play as a way of illuminating ours.”