2012-11-22 / On the Town
Classic set in concentration camp is ‘mesmerizing’
This is the main reason Euripedes’ ancient play “The Trojan Women” still resonates with audiences today.
Written more than 2,500 years ago, the play deals with the aftermath of the Trojan War, when the surviving women of Troy, whose husbands have been killed in battle, are about to be enslaved by the conquering Greeks.
The modern- day French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre revived the play in 1965, retaining the traditional characters but updating the language, setting and costumes for contemporary audiences.
Ronald Duncan’s English version of Sartre’s adaptation was staged this month by the CLU theater arts department in an often mesmerizing performance at the university’s Black Box Studio.
Director Michael Arndt, who never shies away from a challenge, envisioned the setting as a concentration camp. The stage is a rectangular pit surrounded by barbed wire in the center of the theater, with the audience sitting on bleachers above the pit on two sides. Menacing masked guards in SWAT gear and bearing rifles patrol catwalks between the audience and the pit.
The play begins as the Greek gods Poseidon (Martin Gonzalez) and Athena (Karolina Keach) stolidly comment on the war that has just transpired, observing the proceedings from behind a transparent scrim.
The women, dressed in rags, are led by Trojan Queen Hecuba, who has been sentenced to be enslaved by the Greek general Odysseus. (The play curiously refers to him by the Roman equivalent Ulysses, although no other Roman names are used.)
Kellie McIver is the vanquished but still defiant queen, who has lost all her children except one, the seeress Cassandra. Cassandra has gone half mad since the god Apollo placed a curse on her so that none of her prophesies would be believed.
McIver is riveting as the proud queen, who is the last to be removed from the camp. Aubrey Sara Kaye plays Cassandra, pale-faced with flaming red hair, lofting a burning torch as she predicts Ulysses’ arduous journey home.
Kaye delivers a stunning performance as she is taken by storm troopers to her fate as a concubine for the Greek conqueror Agamemnon. She shrieks unheeded prophecies as they drag her away.
Just as unsettling is the fate of Andromache, (Patricia Jaramillo), who arrives at the prison with her young son Astyanax, played by Jared Magpantay.
The Greeks, led by the herald Talthybios (Matthew Case), are afraid that Astyanax will wreak vengeance on them once he is grown, so they kill him by throwing him from the walls of the prison.
In a powerful and emotional scene sensitively played by Jaramillo, Andromache gently washes her son’s face and hands before handing him over to their captors. Later, the body of the bloodied Astyanax is brought back to his mother so she can lay him on her husband’s shield.
The final scenes show Greek king Menelaus (Erik Klein), dressed in black to look like a Gestapo officer, who considers punishment for his adulterous wife, Helen (Catie Widmann), whose affair with Paris ignited the war.
Helen, made up like a Hollywood starlet, uses her beauty to soften his resolve to kill her.
The moody, ominous musical background of this unusual and exemplary play was written by Christopher Hoag.
The settings were designed by Nathanial J. Sinnott.
After more than two millennia, the themes in “The Trojan Women” still resonate so long as wars continue to be waged.