Women and The Trojan Horse
nytheatre.com review by Melanie Lee
August 22, 2006
Experimental theatre, of course, is meant to experiment, and in this case, produces mixed results. The Praxis Theatre Laboratory is a directorless troupe which seeks to "fix as little as possible and each performance retains an element of improvisation." Women and the Trojan Horse, culled from Euripides's The Trojan Women by playwrights Sam Dowling and Nick Warren, travels from experimental cutesiness to muddiness to brilliance. The smatterings of anachronisms, meant to update the play's sensibilities, in the end don't matter as much as the compelling speeches by the actresses.
The action begins in a museum room, where the Trojan royal family hosts a victory party for the audience, cocktail style, among miniatures of modern-day buildings. Cassandra (Rachel Sutton) somberly drifts among the audience members, saying, "Don't ask me to tell your fortune." Hector's widow Andromache (Carol Brophy) and Paris's lover Helen (Maggie Gallagher) (whose abduction from Greece started the Trojan War) are in a cheerier mood over the Greek army's retreat and their gift of a wooden horse. Queen Hecuba (Maria Straw-Cinar) shouts "Troy!" and pours whiskey for her princesses as the goddess Hera (Caroilin Callery) watches wryly. Sudden noises and crashes from afar break up the party as the women watch in horror. "Hector! Menelaus!" they shout.
"Hairy-assed Greeks, who knew?" Hecuba later says of the soldiers hidden inside the horse. "I did," answers her daughter Cassandra, whose prophecies are never believed. "A new twist in horsemanship," notes Andromache.
The rest of the play takes place in a prison cell as the four women await their fates as the booty of war. Often the second quarter of this play is messy as the women do experimental theater-type things like speak over each others' lines, ("You can't talk to me with all those voices at once!" they echo), chant, stamp, and gesture. We get the picture of privileged women horrified over losing everything—husbands, children, position, protection—but the stylized ravings prove annoying and distracting. Yet even in the morass are meaningful moments. One woman tells of the rape and beheading of three Trojan youths. Upon hearing Hecuba rant how she hates all Greeks, Andromache points to Helen and says, "She's Greek." Andromache even wonders if Helen opened the horse. Hera comments, "Races don't really mix, do they? Oil and water."
The story solidifies when Helen and Hecuba, in-law style, fight over the slain Paris. "I lost him to you!" says the mother. "We both lost him!" replies the lover. "Maybe it takes suffering to unite humanity," Hera notes as Hecuba embraces Helen—but then daughter Cassandra and daughter-in-law Andromache get jealous for Mother's attentions. Within the story of the upheaval of war is the war of family dynamics.
Sutton, who sings well, is spellbinding as Cassandra, especially when telling how the god Apollo tried to seduce her. Straw-Cinar is powerful and regal as the tomboyish Hecuba. Gallagher conveys Helen's tartness and passion, but not her fabled magnificent beauty. Brophy is a noble, reserved Andromache, and Callery portrays well the sardonic Hera. The program gave no costume credit, but those stunning gowns with their jewelry, sashes, and, in Hecuba's case, military vest, deserve credit.
Perhaps the Praxis players need a director to sharpen the middle of this play. Also, despite some anachronisms, the show doesn't deliver any pointed commentary on our current war. Rather, Women and the Trojan Horse gives insight and passion to the universal theme of war's destruction and the shock of lost privilege.