Crafting a Queen: Playing Hollyhock
In Huck Is Dead, the role of Hera/Juno is presented in a form very distant from traditional iterations as “Hollyhock.” In creating this character, the actor playing the role cannot wholly rely on their understanding of past portrayals, or even classical mythology – they must keep in mind that this is an adaptation, and thus, the world of this narrative – though sharing many elements with its source material – should ultimately be perceived as its own world to the actor, separate from outside influence.
Considering this adaptation focuses on gender, the identity and presentation of Hollyhock is crucial to crafting the character within the context of the setting. Though he is treated as a woman in his rural community, Hollyhock is a male-identifying tomgirl. No one knows he is queer: he is seen as the wife of Hero’s biological father and the 10-time crowned queen of the local rodeo, the Pendleton Roundup. In other words, he is a queer body hiding in plain sight. Perhaps he holds himself differently for safety and validation in public and in private. It may be useful to consider how he rose to power and prominence in a world that so explicitly pigeonholes individuals’ societal roles based on the gender they were assigned to at birth, i.e. Hero.
With this in mind, consider his relationship to Hero. In many aspects of Hero’s life, he acts as a mother, both as a parental figure and as a sort of queer guiding figure to them, playing into the familiar trope in queer narratives of creating community/family within or outside of previous conceptions of community/family. More than anyone else in the story, Hollyhock understands what Hero is experiencing as they undertake their journey of discovering and actualizing their gender identity to themself and others – after all, he is a queer body in the same socially conservative environment successfully living outside his assigned gender roles. In this way, there is an empathy between the two characters that is absent in their relationship in usual understandings of the story of Hercules/Herakles. It is then imperative that the intersections between gender identity and formed relational dynamics that differ from the source texts be taken into consideration when crafting the character of Hollyhock and his relationship with Hero.
Finally, something else to consider about Hollyhock’s character outside the realm of gender and queerness is that he is explicitly not divine. Though there are moments within the script in which the boundaries of reality are broken – with the play being listed as an “Acid Western,” this should come as no surprise – the character himself is not a god. And yet his position as messenger between the people of Pendleton and the self-exiled Hero gives him an almost omnipotent quality. Several scenes in the play exemplify this seeming all-knowingness, an air of always being in the right place at the right time. There are moments in which he seems to have magic powers, or at least the appearance of magic powers. And yet it must also be remembered that he is a mortal citizen of Pendleton, just as all the other characters are – just as Hero is.
The actor playing Hollyhock undoubtedly has a lot on their plate. They must consider not only who Hollyhock is in terms of presentation, social standing, and relationships, but also what he is in that he seemingly exists between mortality and divinity. How do these identities bleed into each other? This character is both masculine and feminine, mundane and magical. These are important for the actor to keep in mind in creating the character – but then, how does one convey these ideas to an audience? Perhaps most simply is through body and voice. Ultimately, what all of this leads up to is a relatively simple question: How does Hollyhock move and speak?