There is a staggering immediacy and relevance to Euripedes 1,500 year old tragedy of war and its devastating cost and misery. In Charles Mee Jr's vivid and powerful adaptation of "The Trojan Women", the plight of war's victims, especially women, is unrelenting and wrenching. No less than for the Greeks, all appeals to divine reason or political rationalizations vanish in the reality of gaping wounds, social insanity, unspeakable cruelty and immeasurable suffering. Soldiers die at the point of a sword, but women, children and civilizations drown in the blood they spill. On the verge of another "noble" undertaking in the Middle-East, the dead of centuries past deserve no less than this solemn consideration of how little we've learned, how pain and loss remain timeless, how wars win nothing but loss.
Director Sheila Daniels has filled her cast with women of passion and intensity. Their commitment is palpable, and their ability to embody real pain, real suffering and real fear makes for an unnerving, to say nothing of uncomfortable, experience. The production employs a number of devices to emphasize the contemporaneity of these issues, including a jukebox of popular songs, the mixing of modern and classical dress, and a cultural clash between current slang and classical poetry. At times it's striking and effective, but more often it seems self-conscious and contrived, reducing rather than enhancing the play's effectiveness. Because we begin on a scream of anguish, too long sustained, it can't build to a tragic climax, so we also fail to achieve catharsis, that apex of tragic grandeur. Although this production does not succeed as tragedy, it is moving and interesting (if uneven) as a drama.
As Hecuba, Queen of Troy, Marty Mukhalian brings maturity and sobriety to a woman who has lost her kingdom, will soon lose her children, and who can contain a landscape of suffering in saying, "that's the way that men are." Her despoiled business-suit speaks volumes about what has happened to the order and office of her defeated world. But while those in rags wail in their inability to know what will befall them next, she carries the burden of understanding what is to come, and being powerless to affect it. It is a deep and dignified role, and Ms. Mukhalian is strong and convincing. Less effective is Audrey Freudenberg as her daughter, Andromache. Equally anxious to clutch tightly to a world of certainties that no longer exist, her technique was too invented, the hurried and clenched speech, the containment barely holding in her panic, the child she carries as a lifeless doll all seemed like performance, and it didn't quite work. Even more excessive was Nicole Boote as Cassandra, who appears wearing black vinyl pants and a tank top, and speaking contemporary vulgarity. Really. Then again, the blood-drenched Menelaus (frighteningly well-played by MJ Sieber) ends up dancing a tango with a Helen dressed in white lace and garter belts. There is no doubt a good argument for these decisions (Sheila Daniels is far to intelligent for there not to be), but the result is to break the awful action with one-dimensional gimmickry, and it becomes much too much.
Such missteps make this production sound like a travesty, and it was not. The majority of the play was an excruciating experience of the depth of war's misery. But Ms. Daniels' handsomely mounted production was over invented. As a result this nobly intended and earnestly performed tragedy resulted not in fear and pity, but in horror and despair. It is, sadly, exactly the right time for this important play, but this was not the right interpretation.
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