21 April 2013
SITI Company’s Trojan Woman (After Euripides)
As the title suggests, SITI Company’s Trojan Woman (After Euripides) seeks to contemporize Euripides’ play centuries after it was first performed in 415 BC. The SITI Company was founded by Trojan Woman’s director, Anne Bogart, and Tadashi Suzuki in 1992. As explained in the program, the company began as “an agreement to redefine and revitalize contemporary theatre in the United States through an emphasis on international cultural exchange and collaboration…The company represents a change in thinking about the relationships between artists and institutions.” The show was performed by an ensemble of artists who worked together to explore the story of Trojan Women through the use of song, view-point and modern dance style movement, light, and text. The play tells the story of Hecuba, queen of Troy, who has everything she loves taken from her, grappling with the destruction of her city and her role as slave to Odysseus, the man who brought her city to ruin. Although no one could have anticipated the bombings at the Boston marathon coinciding with this production, it addressed the range of emotions felt throughout Boston this week.
While the audience settled into its seats, a man began walking in slow-motion onto the stage in a beam of light. Another man stood in the exposed wings with a viola and computer, and he became the music of the Trojan world. The man finally made himself to center-stage, in the middle of a circle of small, black rocks, and revealed himself to be Poseidon. As a typical Greek Chorus, he told us the tragedy of Hecuba and Troy which we would soon witness. As he spoke, he held the golden apple fought over by Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. He danced with the apple as he told the story of how the fight over the small object led to the Trojan War, but Poseidon never let the apple drop. The next person to enter the stage was Hecuba, and she entered in the same style that Poseidon did, but collapsed on the circle of stones face-down in a crucifix position, hands buried under the stones as if she were chained to the earth. Her first lines of text were about the struggle to get up off of the earth, to keep her head up, and to move forward. She repeated these lines at the end of the play, after the city of Troy was burned.
The costuming established for the audience who were the victims of grief, and who the outsiders and those unscathed by the destruction of Troy. Hecuba, Andromache, Kassandra, and Chorus (the priest) all wore white clothes stained with Troy’s ashes on the bottom, and bare feet. In extreme contrast, Helen wore a pure white gown, jewelry, and silver stilettos. She towered over everyone in the cast, not just the women. The entrance of the Envoy garnered a laugh because his costume and stature contrasted greatly with the other actors on stage. He was a large man, and wore an outfit resembling that of the swat team, with what looked to be a bullet-proof vest. The next man to appear on stage was Menelaus who burst out from the audience in a tuxedo, clearly not touched by the blood of war. The final man to enter the scene was Odysseus, dressed in a high-ranking military uniform.
Half-way through the play, a court-style scene happens between Helen and Hecuba with Menelaus as the judge. Because of Helen’s costuming, it appears as if she has been untouched by the war; the slut who tempted Paris and abandoned her city and husband. For this, Menelaus plans to take her back to Greece and allow the people to stone her to death for the deaths of all the innocent men that died on her behalf. However, she makes the point that she was abandoned by everyone, and helped by no one. I found the direction of the scene interesting, because at no point was Helen’s vulnerability revealed. Even when she was losing, there was an artificiality about her presence in terms of the way she held herself and the way in which she spoke. The court scene at first seems to be a fight of good vs bad, Helen vs Hecuba; villainizing Helen as a whore and manipulator. It is true that Helen is a master manipulator, but that is her only means of survival. Hecuba’s only desire is to seek revenge, and she can find that if Menelaus kills Helen before taking her on the ship. Ultimately, Helen wins, and Menelaus agrees to have her stoned once the the ship takes them home. However, we all know that once Helen gets on the ship she will tempt Menelaus to keep her alive.
The Envoy represents blind obedience, and shows the hopelessness in war, even for the winning side. Although he follows orders to kill Andromache’s son,he does not want to. He cannot remember why the war began, neither can Menelaus. Menelaus says during the court scene that thousands of men could not have given their lives for a woman, for Helen. Everyone looks for a why to everything that has happened, and Hecuba blames the Gods for abandoning all Trojan people. Yet, as the Envoy points out, there is no winning side in a war. Kassandra sheds the only ray of light into the world, telling her mother, “We are the lucky ones.” She dances around the stage, repeating the phrase “I’m getting married,” and shares her plan to murder her husband before they consummate the marriage. Revenge is the attitude of all the women but Andromache, the mother of the only living Trojan heir. After giving away her baby to the Envoy, she then kills the child herself out of love for her son. Odysseus remarks that she does not have the hatred in her to kill anyone, not even her new husband. He belittles the one ray of goodness in the Trojan women, turning it into a quality similar to that of an obedient dog, rather than a human attribute.
The play, which at first seems to be a battle between the Trojans and Greeks, the good and bad guys, seems that it only preaches revenge in times of grief and abandonment. However, Hecuba does not end alone, but with her Priest; one a female, the only a man who sacrificed his manhood to the Gods. This shows that even those who are thought to be the weakest, or doomed to nothing but eternal sorrow, can make the choice to stand up again, and move forward. The final image of the production was that of Hecuba coming to her feet, and taking a step forward into a stream of light. This light was the hope for the future of Hecuba and the Trojans, and for the Boston audience felt like the hope of moving beyond the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings.