As adapted and directed by Bobby Callaway, Bare Theatre’s production of The Trojan Women, written by Euripedes in 415 BC, attempts to foreground the voices of the women who have become the spoils of war. The Greeks have invaded Troy, killed all the men, and plan to dole out the women to the victorious generals. Even the Gods seem to have abandoned the women ignoring their pleas for deliverance. If it all sounds depressingly bleak, it is. And this anti-war play slogs on relentlessly for almost two uninterrupted hours.
An announcement designates this area as the “Greek occupation zone” suggesting a modern connection. The goddess Athena (Victoria Bender) enters, surveys the scene and the audience. Maggie Hatfield’s choreography of an evocative interpretative dance number conveys the horrors the women of Troy have already suffered.
Awakening to the aftermath, Hecuba (Arin Dickson), is alternately full of sorrow for and defiantly angry at the ravages of her city. The chorus (Laura Griffin, Meg Kessinger, and Emily Yates) projects the stress of the situation with their laments and pained expressions. Cassandra (Rosemary Richards), Hecuba’s daughter, the seer who is never believed, flits across the stage in Ophelia-like madness. Andromache (Candace Hescock), widow of Hecuba’s son, Hector, bears her anguish stoically. These women face a horrifying fate, as a result of the violent conflict.
Somewhat ironically, the cause of this mess is the kidnapping of Helen (Lu Meeks) by Paris, an event that sets off her husband and king of Sparta, Menelaus (Douglas Kapp), on an unforgiving campaign to get her back. Yet, after he has waged a destructive siege of Troy, and his wife is returned to Greece, he ultimately orders her execution.
Euripides focused this play on the plight of the women. Consequently, the roles demand a focused commitment to the underlying agony at the core of each character. While some of the performances in the Bare Theatre production are individually solid, the overall effect is not as chilling or emotionally wrenching as suggested by the brutality of events, especially the wrenching of children from mothers.
Dickson effectively elevates the acute misery of Hecuba and delivers a strong performance. Her emotional intensity contrasts sharply with Hescock’s restrained, almost subdued, portrayal of Andromache. She is a widow still mourning her husband’s death, and she is forced to give over her baby son to be flung from the mountains; her grief should be palatable even as she must contain it.
As Cassandra, Richards offers glimpses of an innocence that has been stolen after she is raped by Ajax (an appropriately menacing Nicholas Tycho Reed). Matthew Tucker as Talthybius also shows flickers of pained understanding of the devastation being inflicted by the pronouncements he brings from the victors.
Meeks renders an effective portrayal of Helen, a woman fighting to regain the favor of Menelaus while also wholly owning her sexuality. Kapp also does an admirable job underscoring the dilemma of the king of Sparta who spurns the very woman for which he has waged a long and bloody war.
Although all of these women share similar horrific experiences, they seem to suffer individually throughout the play (even the chorus feels somewhat disconnected from each other) until Callaway brings them together in a moment of female solidarity at the very end. Bender’s emotionally distant Athena compels the women to rise up and vanquish one of their attackers, but instead of leaving haunted by the violence inflicted upon these women, their own violence mutes the very humanity this Bare Theatre production is trying to convey.
The Trojan Women runs through November 24th in Durham and Chapel Hill. For more information visit https://baretheatre.org/tickets/ or the RDU on Stage Performing Arts Calendar.