Playing a character from antiquity, David Ducharme helps lift Eagles’ Drama Guild into state finals for seventh time this decade

As Homer’s “Iliad” clearly demonstrates, it was no easy gig being King Menelaus, husband to Helen of Troy. But 3,500 years later, Marblehead native and St. John’s Prep senior David Ducharme can empathize with the weight of the crown.

“One challenge of playing this role is the constant need for me to be present on stage in every scene,” said Ducharme, 18. “This situation is very new to me, and it’s helped develop my focus and involvement as an actor.”

So far, so good. St. John’s became one of 14 teams to emerge from this past weekend’s festival semifinals and will take the stage of the Back Bay Events Center at Old John Hancock Hall during the state finals from March 22 to 24. Along the way, the team has twice won awards for Scenic Design and Lighting Design along with another for Costume Design, in addition to three ensemble awards presented to the cast and four individual excellence in acting awards. St. John’s was one of 14 schools to host preliminary rounds; three schools at each site were selected to the state semis.

In a tautly paced production that illuminates the common ground between an ancient myth and the contemporary world, the Prep Drama Guild has brought to life “Iphigenia 2.0” by Charles Mee, a reinvention of Euripedes’ “Iphigenia in Aulis.” It tells the story of Agamemnon, whose soldiers challenge him to make a sacrifice equal to their own before they will follow him into battle. In a decision that disrupts cherished ideals about leadership, family, gender, and loyalty, Agamemnon resolves that he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, or lose the respect of his troops.

In addition to being something of an endurance challenge for Ducharme, his role is one that has evolved with each performance.

“Something really unique I’ve found working on this show are the attitudes and personalities that the characters have and develop throughout the story,” he said. “As a modernized interpretation, there is a lot of room for discovering and adapting your character through the text.”

The production itself, which seeks to demonstrate a connection between the ancient myth and today’s world, raises uncomfortable questions, but Alicia Greenwood, theater arts director at St. John's, believes there are valuable lessons to be learned.

"The idea of looking at Greek tragedies through a contemporary lens is fascinating," said Greenwood. "Things that seem far removed from us are suddenly not so distant anymore. The language in this piece spoke to me. It’s simple, but so beautiful and honest.”

The playwright, Mee, who also teaches theater at Columbia University, is known for a distinctive style that uses "found text” to reconstruct familiar stories into contemporary plays that focus on the timelessness of the human condition. In 2014, St. John's won the state Drama Festival with its production of Mee’s "bobrauschenbergamerica."

Students began working on the production weeks ago with a deep dive into research on every aspect of the story. They read ancient myths, explored Greek marriage traditions, studied different styles of military leadership, learned about post-traumatic stress disorder, and looked at the tension between ethical decision-making and diplomacy. Insights gleaned from all of the reading and research helped shape and inform the final production.

“The research process helps everyone understand context and scope—the whole world of the play,” said Greenwood. “It makes for a far better show.”

“Iphigenia 2.0” will be the last high school show for Ducharme, but the veteran performer hasn’t allowed that to put a damper on his fast-approaching final curtain call. “Although it is my last show, I’ve been having as much fun as I can with it,” he explains. “I haven’t been thinking too much about it being the end, but rather, doing my job in contributing to the play and the other company members so that we can create something awesome.”

The Massachusetts High School Festival is the premier annual event for the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild. It includes 112 one-act plays produced by member high schools. The competition is organized on three levels—preliminary, semifinals and state. Student excellence in acting and technical design is recognized at each level, including the selection of an All-Star Company at the finals.