Presented by Theatre@First
Written by Euripides
Translated by Edith Hamilton
Directed by J. Deschene
Nov. 14-22, 2014
Unity Church of Somerville
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Review by Kitty Drexel
In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I did audition for this play and was not cast. It is my firm belief that only a narcissistic ass would allow this to taint their review.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
(Somerville, MA) The Trojan Women was first produced in 415 BCE but might as well have been written last year. In it, the women of Troy (now Turkey) are grieving over their beloved fallen city, and the men who have died defending the city from the Greeks. Euripides so captured the trauma of a country torn by war, that his play has been made into a very famous 1971 film (featuring the alluring Katharine Hepburn as Hecuba, a brave and unusual choice) and has survived several adaptations and manipulations. The translation by Edith Hamilton remains the most popular for staging. The movie featuring Hepburn, Irene Papas, and Vanessa Redgrave, etc. is a classic.
This bitter pill of a tragedy focuses on the actions of Hecuba (wife of Priam) just before the women are dragged off to Greece to begin their servitude. Through speeches by Poseidon (Brian Edgar), Athena (Kamela Dolinova), and Hecuba (Elizabeth Hunter), we learn that the men of Troy are all dead and that Hecuba’s female family members are to be awarded as gifts to the warriors of Menelaus. They are appropriately pissed off and so inconsolably depressed that they tear stuff up a bit before they are lead off to the ships.
Backstory: Menelaus has stormed Troy because he is so deeply insecure in his manhood that he feels compelled to steal Helen back from Paris (lest people think he has a small penis). So, because Paris had such poor boundaries, he took Helen’s flirtation as consent to be kidnapped. Discovering this, Menelaus felt that the best course of action was blowing up an entire city. What resulted is the most infamous case of slut shaming/victim blaming history has ever known. #yesallwomen
The movie version of Trojan Women is difficult to view in one sitting. Hepburn runs around a beige wasteland of rock and sand shouting in her posh Connecticut accent at English and French actors pretending to be Greek. The play is a difficult read no matter which translation one chooses. Euripides didn’t make his play easily digestible yet director J. Deschene has managed to make her community theatre production accessible to almost anyone. Emotional complexity aside, one does not suffer the cognitive shift common to adjusting to poetic speech in performance. The actors clearly understand of what they speak and why they are speaking it.
Deschene does an admirable job capturing the unrelenting trauma of the women while enabling them to own their experiences. Unfortunately, Deschene misses opportunities to give the audience minor breaks from the overwhelming deluge of sadness. The actors are up close and personal with the audience, we could have used a few ebbs in the flow of the grief. The actors have built up a resistance to the grief over many rehearsals. The audience has not. We left the venue shell shocked.
Aside from a few brief moments of actor’s Brownian motion, the cast was very strong. In particular, Elizabeth Hunter (Hecuba) and Hannah Sharafian (Cassandra) delivered powerful performances. Hunter’s emotional/physical stamina as the nervous breakdown suffering Hecuba is quite awe inspiring. Sharafian nearly broke my heart in half as the critically misunderstood prophetess. They had the script by the balls and the audience in their hands.
The sound and costumes were clearly designed to evoke anxiety. Bravo to Chris Mason and Vickie Wu for triggering for my mental health issues. No, seriously, it was awesome.
Lastly, Trojan Women takes places a dusty, dirty landscape. There are particulates flying through the air during of the show. If you have allergies or are sensitive to floating pieces of crud, I highly suggest taking an antihistamine before the performance.