The Traveling Players Present the Women of Troy
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 9, 2009
There is an incredible amount on strength buried deep within all of us. Many times this strength is not discovered until we are pushed into extreme adversity. In Euripides's classic play Trojan Women, the great women of Troy are forced to watch their city burn and their husbands and children slaughtered and finally they are taken to be concubines to their Greek conquerors. It is their strength amid such adversity that director/adapter Theodora Skipitares uses to parallel the strength of modern women against similar hardships and she does so with loads of style and poignancy.
Skipitares's adaptation works well for many reasons. First of all, the parallels she draws between the plight of the Trojan women and that of the contemporary women really puts their suffering into perspective. It can be difficult to identify with these ancient women but this comparison helps establish new connections to them and their struggles—struggles, such as being forced into a life as a sex slave, that are still with us to this very day. Another reason Skipitares's comparison works well is the inspiration it nurtures. The women of Troy could do very little to fight against their oppressors but the modern women Skipitares uses here can and do fight against their oppressors.
The women Skipitares chooses are all courageous leaders in their communities. Jenni Williams and Tabitha Khumalo fight the oppression of Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe. Rebecca Lolosoli is a leader in Kenya who founded a village of all women who have been rejected by their husbands and families after they were raped. Finally, Shamsia Husseini is teenage girl in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in her face by members of the Taliban because she was going to school. These women are giants in their communities and Skipitares makes them into giant puppets about 20 feet tall.
As Skipitares tells the story of the Trojan women each new character enters from within one of the these giant puppets. First is Hecuba, the fallen queen of Troy. She is a life-size puppet attached to the puppeteer's body. Most of the puppets, other than the giant ones, are made in this style. Their heads are attached to the puppeteer's head with two strings and the arms are operated with rods. Puppet designer Jane Catherine Shaw captures exquisite looks of concern and strength in the faces of her puppets. Cecilia Schiller also contributes to the puppets designs. Their designs look and operate perfectly for this piece.
Another element that fits in perfectly is the live music composed and performed by Sxip Shirey. Shirey is an amazing NYC composer and his work here really draws attention to the mood and action on the stage. He uses many different instruments—some traditional, some toy—to create a dissonant soundscape. He uses a toy piano and other toy instruments that clang and plunk along with a guitar that has paperclips on the strings creating a strange reverb. He also relies heavily on a blow-organ and a droning shruti box. Shirey's performance is incredible.
There are several very powerful performances given by the ensemble of puppeteers as well. Sheila Dabney does some fantastic work delivering four short monologues in which each contemporary woman tells her own story. Lovonda Elam plays Cassandra with the perfect amount of morbid delight after hearing what her fate will be. Finally, Carolyn Goelzer excels in the role of Hecuba. The bulk of the emotion and courage lies on her shoulders and she carries it well.
The Women of Troy is a unique experience. In combines its elements very well and creates an atmosphere of inspiration that I don't believe I've ever seen before in an adaptation of Trojan Women. The courage and leadership of the women highlighted in the production should be seen by as many people as possible in the hopes that these ancient traditions of oppression will come to an end once and for all.