On Saturday (November 5), along with hard-working stage manager Margot Devlin and crazy co-producers PJ Hammond and Tabitha Keast (the dynamic duo behind last season’s GuineaPigging and the just- closed-last-month After Mrs. Rochester), I attended the first read-through of Alumnae’s January show, a remount of Euripides’ ancient Greek classic The Trojan Women. The translation we’ll be working with was done by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen in the late 1970’s, and previously produced at Alumnae Theatre in 1993.
An earlier translation by Gilbert Murray was staged at Alumnae in 1958, directed by Robert Gill (yes, the fellow for whom they named a theatre at University of Toronto!). The MacEwen translation is this season’s “Countdown to 100” play – if you can believe it, Alumnae Theatre Company has been going strong for 92 years, and we’re remounting plays from prior decades as we hurtle towards the century mark.
The reading was held at the home of cast member Molly Thom, who’s playing Hecuba, the widowed Queen of Troy. TRIVIA: Molly appeared in the 1993 production (directed by Jeanette Lambermont), as a member of the Chorus!
Director Alexandra Seay described The Trojan Women as a classic anti-war play, although she’s not planning to stress that aspect. To her, it’s more about women finding a voice. There’s a recurring line in the play – first spoken by Hecuba, and later by Helen (whose “half-divine” beauty caused men to fight over her and brought on the Trojan War) – that women “live beneath the shadows of men”.
MacEwen’s text speaks to a 1970’s audience – naturally enough: that’s when she did the translation, and the Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind back then. Alexandra wants to make the play relevant to today’s audience (who are these women?), and she also wants to address the notion of circularity – what is past is present, and the audience is part of it and affected by it.
She has made some cuts to the text, most significantly to the final scene, so that the last words go to Hecuba and the Chorus, and the play ends on a note of hope.
The production will be timeless – it’s both no-time and all-time. There will be nothing to locate it in any specific period – no guns, no swords. The Chorus will sing much of their dialogue (in English!) – a keening, like Greek or Arabic music, with a recurring rhythmic and tonal anthem. As examples, Alexandra played a couple of Arabic songs from a CD by Toronto-based singer Maryem Tollar and the group Maza Mezé – an a cappella chorus with drums.
Reading straight through this powerful play took just over an hour. It will likely run about 75 minutes in performance, and will be staged without an intermission. For a Greek mythology geek like me, it was such a treat to hear it read by these wonderful actors.
The cast, in order of speaking, is: Sandy (Andrew P.) MacMaster as both the sea god Poseidon and a Greek messenger called Talthybius; Susan Q Wilson (who just appeared in After Mrs. Rochester) as the Chorus Leader; Andrea Blakey, Laura Gooding, Suzette McCanny, Laine Newman (also from After Mrs. Rochester), and Anne Shepherd as the Chorus; Molly Thom as Hecuba; Sochi Fried (who played the title role in Hedda Gabler last season at Alumnae) as Hecuba’s daughter Cassandra; Nicole St. Martin as Andromache (Hecuba’s widowed daughter-in-law); and Tara Zacharias as Helen of Troy. Company President Barbara Larose filled in for absent cast member Scott Moore (currently rehearsing for another show, and previously seen at Alumnae as the hapless theatre critic Moon in The Real Inspector Hound), reading the role of Menelaus, King of Sparta – Helen’s cuckolded husband.
Alexandra notified the cast that there will be a bumble-through (which she described as “one step below a stumble-through”) on December 18, and warned them – in a horror-movie tone, that “your weekends in January are mine!”
Some random lines that stuck out for me:
The darkness is hungry; it eats the stones.
War is a word for you, isn’t it? War is something that men do.
Maybe the gods are mad. Maybe there are no gods.
The Trojan Women opens on Alumnae Theatre’s Main Stage on January 20. Should be amazing.