Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, November, 1999
The last Greek tragedy that I saw was the WTF production of “Hecuba” in which Olympia Dukakis shook her head and announced “I am da muddah of all mis-ah-rees!” – looking so much like Jimmy Durante that I almost burst out laughing. Of course, I was dying to laugh because everyone on stage was, well, dying. There is no comic relief in Greek tragedy, and they can be wearing.
So I proceeded to the AMT last night braced for not one but four miserablely wronged ancient women. One translation of the play that I found in my library rendered the title “The Trojan Dames”, and I was all set to title this review “Dem Damned Dames”.
But when I arose to go home I realized that a falsehood had been perpetrated here. I had been led to believe that I was seeing “The Trojan Women” by Euripides, circa 415 BCE. What I saw was an evening of music, words, and dance staged by James Bond with an ensemble of Williams students. The entertainment was loosely based on the translation of Euripides work by Richard Lattimore, but if Euripides had stumbled into the theatre he would not have known what was going on. In fact I wondered if I hadn’t stumbled into the Williams College Dance Company’s fall concert by mistake.
If you want to see Euripides, if you want to see a classic Greek tragedy fully staged, if you can’t stand that avant-garde stuff, then don’t go to this show. If you want to see something purely theatrical and thought provoking, by all means buy a ticket now. This is not Euripides, but it is fascinating. And coming in well under 90 minutes, you won’t have sat too long or, at $4 per ticket, spent too much for the experience.
Bond’s press claims that he is “a founding member of SITI company, a collective of theatre artists commited to the creation of original works for the theatre, the training of theatre artists, and international collaboration and exchange.” This adpatation of Euripides work took place during the rehearsal process. The setting is comtemporary to illustrate the timelessness of the tragedies of war.
While the overall vision is Bond’s this production is truly an ensemble effort. The set by Nancy Moeur, the lighting by Brian H. Scott, the costumes by eight, the choreography by Natacha Kantor, and the sound design by Bond and Kantor, all work with the ensemble cast to produce an overall effect.
The stage is steeply raked and everything is white, white, white. The lighting bars are in full view overhead, on the sides, and within the set. Bright white lights send towering shadows on the white cyclorama surrounding the sent. The women’s costumes are in earth tones tending towards red, the men are in black. At times the women stand in plastic wash tub. At times they perch on one of the two massive broken pillars that sit on either side downstage. There are things to climb on and a pit in front of the stage into which things vanish and from which other things appear.
In the program, thirteen actions are listed. With the exception of Cassandra’s prophecy and abduction (some guy just picked her up and carried her off the stage before she could open her mouth as far as I could see), this list made what I saw clear to me. The Trojan women, nothing more than spoils of war, are waiting to be claimed, to be sold, to be killed by the conquering Greeks. Bond uses some of the original text, along with music and sound and material created and contributed by the cast to give the sense of the tormented limbo in which these women hang.
I was impressed with the ensemble work of the cast, particularly in the dance and musical portions of the evening. I wished that Helen of Troy (Marina Melka) had not had such a strong accent, and I overheard some students saying that the girl cast as Cassandra had failed to show up for rehearsals, which could account for that character’s abrupt departure from the stage without uttering her prophecy. But otherwise I had no complaints with the actors.
In the end I was glad that all these women were less miserable. It made their suffering more accessible to me. And the visual beauty of this production just took my breath away. You won’t see anything like it again in these parts for quite a while.
The Williamstheatre production of “The Trojan Women” will be performed at 8 PM on November 19 and 20, and at 2 PM on November 20. The show runs 80 minutes with no intermission. Call the box office at 413-597-2425 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999