Jennifer Pennington (front right) and the ensemble of The Trojan Women. Photo courtesy CTC.
The Trojan Women
By Euripides, translated by Edith Hamilton
Directed by Hallie Dizdarevic
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
There is an idea that Ancient Greece was an exemplary society. Even though they did build the foundation of western civilization and democratic ideals, especially when it comes to theatre. Yet the subjects of the plays are often war and it’s devastating effects on humanity. This Commonwealth Theatre Center production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women makes the point that the cruel, brutality of such conflict has always been, and will always be, a part of the human experience. It seems, tragic but inevitable.
The play opens immediately following the Fall of Troy to the Greek armies that have laid siege to the city for many years. Queen Hecuba (Jennifer Pennington) and her daughters, Cassandra (Zoe Peterson) and Andromache (Heather Burns) learn that their fate is to be concubines to Greek generals (to the victors go the spoils?), and that Andromache’s young son, Astyanax (Zachary Wertz) is to be executed, thrown from the highest walls of Troy.
Menelaus (Joseph Heberle) comes to claim his wife, Helen (Shannon Bradley), held prisoner but not a woman of Troy. Her role in instigating the war is a legend (the face that launched a thousand ships), and it leads Menelaus to order her execution as well, but only after she has been returned to Greece.
So the women suffer terribly, and Euripides doesn’t flinch at the heartless, unforgiving nature of the patriarchal Greek society. I doubt the Trojans would have exhibited greater mercy, and the contemporary relevance of the material, in a world rife with violent conflict, the threat of thermonuclear exchange, and an increasingly heightened awareness of the subjugation of women a generation after the Woman’s Movement in America is clear. If you don’t quite get it, take the time to read director Hallie Dizdarevic’s thoughtful program notes.
Clay Marshall’s set design is grounded in the classical origin of the material, with one piece of the edifice hanging precipitously above the actor’s heads, reinforcing the Sword of Damocles dynamic in the plot.
Lindsay Chamberlin’s costumes for the women are an exquisite balance between that same aesthetic and today. Clothed in worn and tattered garments topped by jackets and headscarves that echo desert camouflage, they refer to the geography and cultural signifiers of Middle East wars. The men are clad in solid black uniforms that conjure totalitarian profiles.
There is also an impactful use of live music from backstage, a thundering percussion that also blends classical and modern aesthetics.
Jennifer Pennington rules the stage as Hecuba. Her performance highlight that, If the story strips the Queen of position and authority, it allows her humanity, even as we witness it come under relentless assault. Heather Burns is her equal as Andromache, and the two actors (both are CTC faculty) realize the grief and anguish of having your children literally ripped from your arms with gale force emotional energy.
Zoë Peterson works up a similar storm as Cassandra, and there is other good work among the student cast from Shannon Bradley as Helen, Joseph Heberle as Menelaus, Jude Stivers as Talthybius, and Ruby Osborne as Athena. William Ngong lent a provocative note to his Poseidon with the hint of a Southern Baptist preacher’s cadence.
Ultimately, this is bleak stuff. All credit to Dizdarevic for her unstinting commitment to the hard truths of the material. That she sets a brisk pace without sacrificing any of the intentions of the text serves the audience well – the production clocks in at 75 minutes with no intermission, because more, however beautiful the design or how skilled the playing, might be hard to take. The ensemble is put to use formally as a Chorus, rendering the exposition in full-throated delivery.
The Trojan Women
January 25, 26, 27, February 1, 2, & 3 @ 7:30
January 27 & February 3 @ 2:00pm
Commonwealth Theatre Center
Nancy Sexton Stage
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.