Euripides’ The Trojan Women may be the greatest anti-war play ever written. And the timing is certainly right for an anti-war play. The new production of The Trojan Women by Three Crows Theatre makes a valiant effort in staging this so-relevant production, but the performances don’t make the most of the beautiful language or the anti-war passion. Katherine Siegel directs this version of The Trojan Women, adapted by Jean-Paul Sartre and translated by Ronald Duncan.
The play begins as Troy has fallen to the Greeks. The Trojan army has been slaughtered and Troy has been burned. Those remaining are widows and children. Five red shawls, signifying the blood shed on those grounds, are spread on the ground as Hecuba (Judith Laughlin), Priam’s widow, speaks. She mourns her losses and those of her country. The Greeks have slain Priam and all her sons. Her daughters, who were to be married to kings, have been kidnapped into slavery.
“As for my husband, Priam, these same eyes that weep, watched when they bled him on the steps of the altar and saw his throat open like a mouth and his blood flower, then flow, over his golden skin….”
The chorus of five widows covers themselves with the red shawls and mourns with her. They know they will be taken into slavery too and forced to serve and sleep with Greek men.
The story is familiar. The Greeks’ ten-year siege of Troy began because Paris, son of Hecuba and Priam, fell in love with the beautiful Helen and stole her from her husband, Menelaus, king of Sparta (a Greek city-state). Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus, led the 10-year war against Troy. In Greek mythology, the whole thing was started by a dispute among three goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite.
Talthybios (Ian Michael Smith), the Greek herald, arrives to tell Hecuba of her fate and that of her daughter, Cassandra (Andi Earles), and her daughter-in-law, Andromache (Selena Lopez), wife of Hecuba’s slain son, Hector. Andromache’s young son Astyanax (Quinn Thompson) is to suffer a similar fate.
Cassandra is one of the lucky ones, Talthybios says. Agamemnon, who is married to Clytemnestra, wants Cassandra for his concubine, because she is a virgin and a prophetess. But Cassandra promises that she will be the doom of the Greek king. She tells the widows, “Lift up your heads: be proud, leave your revenge to me; he who embraces me will be destroyed by me.”
The chorus members are Jessica Lauren Fisher, Arlicia McClain, Anna Marck, Lauren Knutson and Heather VanderWielen.
Director Siegel has some good performers in Laughlin as Hecuba, Lopez as Andromache, Earles as Cassandra, and Julia Badger as Helen. But many of the actors are low energy and speak softly as if they are in a private conversation, not projecting their voices as needed even in a small venue. Siegel could improve the performance of this fine play by concentrating on energy and vocal performance.
The simple staging is designed by Nathaniel Negron (who also plays Menelaus) with lighting by Christopher Bennett and sound by Samuel Fitzwater-Butchart. Selena Lopez designed costumes.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote Les Troyennes, his adaptation of The Trojan Women, in 1965 with reference to the French war in Algeria. In1964, he had turned down the Nobel Prize for literature because he didn’t believe a writer should be turned into an institution; thus he rejected all honors.
Euripides’ play was an anti-war message, as well as an homage to the resilience of women. But he was a voice in the wilderness when he first staged his play in 416 BC. No one took up his view of “war’s terrors and futilities,” according to Edith Hamilton, translator of a 1937 version of The Trojan Women. The Rome war machine continued more and more efficiently for 800 years with no Euripidean view to disturb it.
The Trojan Women is staged by Three Crows Theatre at the Piven Theatre Workshop at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursday-Sunday through October 15. Tickets are pay-what-you-can; reserve them here.