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The Women of Troy (3rd Ave South and 2nd St SE, Pillsbury “A” Mill Machine Shop)
an adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women and Hecuba

The Women of Troy runs through March 20th. More info at franktheatre.org

Directed by Wendy Knox
A Frank Theatre Production

March 12th, 2005

Running time: Approximately 150 minutes with one intermission.

Review by Miguel Trejo

The Wailing Women of Troy

Walking up to the Pillsbury “A” Mill Machine shop on a frigid Saturday evening, I was impressed by the row of cars parked outside this seemingly abandoned industrial building. On a poster outside the entrance the women of Troy stood behind bars—defiant, frightened, resigned – silently awaiting their fate. Inside the women of Troy waited to lift their voices in song—wailing, lamenting, and remembering.

The Frank Theatre production of The Women of Troy, adapted by Wendy Knox from Euripides’ The Trojan Women and Hecuba, pulls apart the Greek tragedy, distilling its most distinctive elements – the chorus and timeless humanistic questions – into a play popping with energy and sound. It begins with the chorus retelling the events leading up to the destruction of Troy. Soon the scene moves to the gates of Troy as the Trojan horse, its belly full of spears, is being dragged into the city. The citizens revel in their victory over the Greeks but it isn’t long before the horse bursts open, ramps thunder down, and Greeks dressed in camouflage pants and wielding spear-bazookas spill out into the streets. Overnight, Troy is conquered – the men put to the sword and the women taken as spoils of war. Queen Hecuba and her chorus of noblewomen must live on as slaves and concubines after their world has been destroyed.

The most striking aspect of this production was its non-traditional use of the chorus. Unlike some productions of Greek drama that take a seriously classical approach, this version is unafraid to modify the form of the play in order to get to its core. Written by Marya Hart, the music can be jubilant, sorrowful, angry, insane, and wistful as the play follows the declining fortunes of the women. Strains of the blues, the African-American spiritual, and jazz can be felt throughout the piece. Essentially, in Knox’s adaptation of this Greek tragedy, Frank Theatre has adapted the concept of the Greek chorus, adding a twist of the American musical. The chorus does not just stand and speak in unison, it sings in harmony music that is familiar to a modern audience.

However, although the music was superb and an integral part of the performance, there were moments when it did not serve to further the movement of the play – specifically when dialogue was sung. In those moments, the play took on a feeling of high opera which was sluggish and muddy compared to the rest of the music. Singing in a theatrical performance should be limited to instances when only a voice raised in song can communicate what a character feels. Otherwise, it’s dialogue and should be allowed to stand on its own.

The ensemble did a masterful job of ensuring that the star of the show was the show itself. Many of the women and men did double or triple duty playing chorus members as well as individual characters, so that the chorus and ensemble were one and the same. An actress would sing with the chorus and slip offstage for a minor costume change, returning transformed as Cassandra or Andromache. Afterwards, she would once again fade away into the wings to come back as a chorus member.

Each woman has her own story to tell and a path that fate has set out for her. The only power they have is the way in which they accept their fate. Janis Hardy gives Hecuba the regal bearing and moral weight the role demands. Christiana Clark captures the erratic personality of Cassandra who can be eerily lucid, insane, or both at the same time. Corissa White gives the role of Andromache a quiet dignity as she is carted away with other spoils of war after her son is thrown from the walls of Troy. Annie Enneking, playing Helen, is a smooth operator dressed in red who uses what the gods gave her to stay on top. Maesie Speer is perfect in the role of Polyxena, the selfless princess whose courage in the face of her own human sacrifice makes the Greek army pause with doubt.

Knox was artfully subtle in conveying the play’s anti-war message in relation to the conflict in Iraq. It doesn’t take much for the audience to make the connection and, thankfully, Knox doesn’t overreach in order to make it painfully clear. This play was less about any specific war and more about the effect war has on the people who fight and those who are at their mercy. The word “necessity” springs up numerous times throughout the play as a justification for violence. In the thousands of years since Euripides wrote his plays, that word is still on the tongues of those who would lead people to war. Watching this play, one wonders how much has changed since then. Governments continue to fight, fathers and sons continue to die, and wives and daughters are left behind to wail, lament and pick up the pieces.

Miguel Trejo is at migueltrejo00[at]hotmail.com


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