March 05, 2004

The Trojan Women

The other play put on as part of rep term is The Trojan Women. The play itself is amazingly powerful; and quite difficult, having a chorus part and lots of monologues. It would be easy for it to turn into a bunch of people standing on stage and reciting speeches. But the talented cast really pulled off a masterpiece. I stood as I applauded, and those of you who know me will realise how significant that is.

Technically, the show was excellent. The sets were brilliantly constructed (and used for both shows, with an 18-minute set changeover). The lighting was rather elabourate, with many different cues to highlight a pause in the narrative or a change in the focus; although once or twice people were slightly in the wrong place for their lighting cue, overall it made excellent use of the play between light and dark. The costumes, too, were apt and well-constructed. The makeup was unfortunately overdone on Hekuba---Harbach auditorium is a little too close-up to do that sort of heavy black-line age makeup---but otherwise good.

It was the acting, though, of course, which blew me away. Every one of the six main actors had difficult monologues that they delivered with engaging passion and emotion. Cassandra's insane cavorting was surprisingly convincing; Andromache made us believe her very soul was being torn from her body. Helen's cold reasoning gave way to a more desperate begging, and Menelaos's bitterness practically dripped from his mouth. Talthybios is put in that difficult position of representing parties he has come to disagree with, and the internal struggle that develops there is played out progressively in each successive appearance on the stage. Even the chorus of eight women, despite speaking in a unison that almost resembles a chant, manage to convey the despair of the everyday Trojan women, who lost their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, and now are going to be further separated from each other, sent to a life of slavery. It's perhaps because of the chorus form that we can really see this as representing all the surviving women of the city---I've not seen Greek plays before, but the chorus is a surprisingly effective method of delivery, at least when done this well.

I've left out one person from that list, and that's Hekuba, because she really stood alone. On stage for essentially the entire play, she knits it together, watching as Cassandra, Andromache, and Helen get dragged off to the ships, and as her grandson Astyanax is sentenced to death and killed, and as she learns her other daughter Polycena has been killed to provide Achillles with a companion in the afterlife. Somehow, she managed to sustain the grief and mourning for the entire two hours without lapsing into cliché. And she didn't maintain a constant level of grief, which might burn out the audience or inure it to the pain, but rather makes it wane and then wax again, for maximum emotive effect. She adds other emotions into the mix---worry for Cassandra, pity for Andromache, and vengeful bitterness for Helen---but always with an undertone of sorrow and loss of her great city, sometimes with hope for the future and sometimes with an almost stoic "life, somehow, goes on" attitude. She also has probably half the lines in the play, and if she messed any of them up, she covered for them perfectly. As the play closes with her walking off the stage, she brings you with her; alas the fate of Troy and alas the fate of its women.

Alas for those of you who don't live in Galesburg. If you do, and you haven't seen this show, tomorrow's the last night. This social statement on the bleak lot of the survivors of war is the best performance I've seen in a good long time, and it's worth your time.

"I've come to think of life as a neverending attempt to hit moving targets, and things like spirituality and religion are attempts to slow down the target so that you can nail it real good once or twice before it slips away and you have to start running again." --Bob Murching

Posted by blahedo at 11:30pm on 5 Mar 2004
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