Trojan Women (After Euripides)
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
November 28, 2012
When we think of the Trojan War, our mind goes to the cunning hero Odysseus, a giant wooden horse and Greece’s victory after ten long years of battle. What we do not think of is the resulting pillaging and destruction of Troy, the division of its inhabitants as slaves to the Greeks and the Trojans’ feeling that their gods had deserted them. Jocelyn Clarke’s accessible adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women brings us to Troy, just after the Greeks have conquered the city by hiding inside the belly of the wooden horse that the Trojan’s believed to be a gift. Four women await their fate: Hecuba (queen of Troy), her crazed daughter Kassandra, Andromache (Hecuba’s daughter-in-law and widow of Trojan warrior Hector) and, separate from the rest, Helen, the woman who caused the war when she left her Greek husband Menelaus and ran off with the Trojan Paris, son of Hecuba. A Greek Envoy informs the women of their fates – Helen will be restored to her husband for punishment, Andromache will be mistress to the son of Achilles (particularly painful as her husband with killed by Achilles), Kassandra will be sent to Agamemnon, and Hecuba will, overnight, go from queen of Troy to the slave of its victor, Odysseus. One-by-one the women are brought to their fates. Each protests her fate in her own way; Hecuba, our central character, played by the formidable Ellen Lauren, does so with her words – fighting with her captors, bemoaning the gods who have seemingly abandoned Troy, pleading, debating, goading, caring and hating. And, when the grief and loss and hopelessness become too great, the words abandon her and she wails. They say that characters in a musical sing because the emotions are too great for spoken language. In the SITI Company’s play, Lauren uses sound, not song, to convey Hecuba’s utter despair and grief - pained and animalistic, these vibrations of utter desolation bellow forth from her. I have seen Ellen Lauren onstage in nearly a dozen SITI Company shows and this is her tour-de-force – a stunningly powerful performance that everyone should see.
As is my typical reaction to SITI Company shows, I did not become emotionally involved with the characters, yet never ceased to be struck by the beautiful stage pictures in front of me and the deliberation and precision of the well-trained, exceptionally hardworking ensemble. No finger is moved without reason, and every gesture, no matter how small, captures the attention. Director Anne Bogart tells the story cleanly and grippingly. In Greek tragedy, very little of the action happens onstage, yet Bogart creates strong tension and keeps us in rapt attention. James Schuette’s set design is simple yet brilliant. The large circle of dirt in the center of the stage gives the actors endless possibilities – from Lauren’s entrance, falling to her knees and then burying herself face-down into the dirt to Akiko Aizawa’s deranged Kassandra literally screaming and throwing herself onto it (in one of the plays few comic moments) to the awkward way Helen, clad in stilettos, makes her way through the foreign soil. Melissa Trn’s costumes are beautiful and, with Trojans in white, Greeks in black and Poseidon in blue, helpful in identifying characters. SITI Company is all about these clear, seemingly simple choices, which are then executed to the highest degree of creativity and professionalism.