To appreciate contemporary interpretations of ancient classics often requires a taste for theatrical risk. The production of The Trojan Women at the Westside Repertory Theatre, now celebrating its twenty-eighth season, represents an interesting example of such risk-taking.
Euripides's classic tragedy was first produced in 415 B.C. as Athens and Sparta were winding down their 16-year-old war. The previous year Athens had been guilty of an appalling crime involving the attack and capture of Melos, an island that had refused Athens's demand for a contribution to the war effort. The Athenians slaughtered every man on the island and sold the women and children as slaves. Modern scholars generally agree that Euripides -- through his portrayal of the fallen Troy -- was trying to show his fellow Athenians the consequences of what they had done.
The Westside Repertory has used Euripides's text as the starting point for its own explorations, conceived, adapted and directed by Tanya Kane-Parry. Kane-Perry explains in a director's note that Euripides's original play shows, in her view, "the struggle between predestination and free will." But this ancient conflict is no longer relevant for modern audiences, Kane-Parry continues.
"...since the coming of the nuclear age and our ability to completely obliterate ourselves and the human planet, human consciousness has been forced to face the randomness and chaos of the universe.... In adapting and re-examining this play, we must look at it through our modern (or, perhaps more specifically, our post-post-modern) perspective."
Large issues are at stake here, worthy of serious attention. One can debate Kane-Parry's assumptions about the meaning of the "nuclear age." The ability for humans to destroy the planet points not necessarily to randomness and chaos but to an awesome power and unprecedented ability to control our fate as a species. Certainly writers such as Jonathan Schell and others have made this argument.
In any case, Kane-Parry has worked her personal vision into an unusual theatrical event, squeezing a big, ambitious production into the Westside Rep's tiny basement of a theatre. The actors performed on a stage filled with sand, while Scott Machens's provocative slides - mostly of semi-nude men -reflected from wall to wall. Evren Celimli's sound design included authentic Turkish music and computerized voices that echoed loudly (and sometimes unintelligibly), creating a chaotic offstage presence. The lighting design by Ian Hill incorporated hand-held spots, flashlights, and full-length mirrors carried by the actors themselves.
The sheer theatrics of the show sometimes overwhelmd the performances of the actors themselves, though the ensemble moved evenly through its choreographed, stylized tableaux. Capturing the spirit of an ancient woman must be terrifically elusive, but Zoie Marmaras, in particular, succeeded in her portrayal of Cassandra, the Trojan woman who can see into the future and knows she will survive to see her oppressor fall.
The capable cast of nine also featured Ricardia Bramley, Ruthanne Gereghty, Veronica Goode, Emma Jacobson-Sive, Tara Kruse, Victoria Lind, Bill White, and Rose Zingale.