The Trojan Women
A version that shows us in the women of Troy the brutalized women of our own time's wars
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 6, 2009
The Trojan Women
Oscar G. Brockett Theatre, through Nov. 8
Running time: 1 hr, 25 min
In the arena of war, women have long been treated as collateral damage at best and, at worst, spoils for the victorious males to do with as they will. Certainly, that was true when Euripides
penned The Trojan Women 2,400 years ago, and the creators of this new adaptation produced by the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance make the case that it's no less true now. That may not seem so at the outset, what with the opening dialogue between a pair of gods far above humankind (a scene smartly staged by director Halena Kays on the high catwalks over the Brockett Theatre stage). But when the action shifts to the ground, the women of the title, survivors of the Greeks' 10-year siege of Troy, rise from the rubble as from the scorched earth itself. They are in modern clothing, stained with blood, their faces bruised and dirty, their hair chopped short as if in punishment, and their first utterances are the repeated protests of people in shock. These are not starchy heroines from classical drama; they are victims of post-traumatic stress, and in their haunted eyes we can see the brutalized women of Bosnia, Darfur, Congo, and Iraq.
These are women who have lost so much: homes, possessions, position, honor, husbands, children – all but the land under their feet. And we meet them as they are losing even that, as they are being torn from Troy to be made slaves and concubines to their conquerors. Anything they might have left is stolen away, as we witness when the infant son of Andromache and the slain prince Hector is snatched from his baby carriage and thrown from the city walls. The women's profound weariness is expressed in the performance of Kate deBuys, as the Trojan queen Hecuba; at times she seems just a husk of a woman, as if all breath had been sucked from her lungs, all life from her soul.
And yet these women still resist. When Menelaus appears, Hecuba confronts the Spartan king, here a cocky corporate shark in a sharply tailored suit and played by Rodney Richardson with the casual charm and confidence of Will Smith. The only weapons she has to wield are words, and playwrights Meghan Kennedy and Kimber Lee have given her and her fellow characters modern language weighted and honed to a cutting edge. This leads to a standout scene wherein the putative cause of the war, Menelaus' unfaithful wife, Helen, is "tried" for her infidelity. As the legendary beauty, Verity Branco arrives like a vision of vintage Hollywood, Helen as Rita Hayworth, with lush, dark curls tumbling onto the shoulders of a midnight-black dressing gown over a silken black peignoir and long evening gloves of a brilliant crimson, suggesting the blood on her hands. This Helen radiates heat, in terms of sensuality but also of anger at being made the scapegoat for this war, and Branco blazes as the character justifies her actions. Hecuba responds with her own rage, which cunningly takes the form of a punk song in the vein of Patti Smith. (Kevin O'Donnell's original music adds to the atmosphere throughout.)
In her state, that rage is not something Hecuba can sustain, and in their youth, the deep grief and misery of the Trojan women is not something this show's actresses can sustain, though that is not a failing of theirs. This play demands that its actors go to a bleak and terrible landscape that is hard enough to visit much less live in for any time. Still, like the characters they play, these actresses stand up and try, and there is honesty and honor and something to move us in their effort. They, along with Kennedy, Lee, Kays, and the production's other artists, take ancient truths onto their backs and carry them into our time, so that as the women of Troy bid farewell to their home, we might wonder where in our world this same scene might once again be playing itself out for real.