Okay, now it’s time to finally put my thoughts about the opening night (January 20) performance of The Trojan Women down on paper. Or electronically, or whatever!
Picture this. The audience came in to a silent theatre, with a man silhouetted on a tall sand dune. He turned out to be Poseidon (Andrew P. MacMaster), god of the sea. The once-proud city of Troy has been demolished by the Greeks. Down at stage left was Hecuba (Molly Thom), the ragged, defeated but still feisty former Queen of Troy, and on the other side of the stage was Hecuba’s crazy daughter Cassandra (Sochi Fried), playing with a pile of flower petals. On the sand dune below Poseidon was a bunch of black rocks, which magically came to life as the Chorus (Andrea Blakey, Stephanie Carpanini, Suzette McCanny, Katie Ribout, Anne Shepherd, and Susan Q Wilson), cloaked and hooded widows of conquered Troy who echo Hecuba’s pain.
Hecuba angrily spits out the reason for the Trojan War, the reason why she and the other women now belong to the conquering Greeks: “Why? Because one man decided to enjoy one woman.”
And they repeatedly call for Helen, the cause of it all, who hides in a tent, visible only occasionally as a dramatically posed silhouette on the fabric.
A diagonal swath of light carves a path on the stage when Andromache (Nicole St. Martin), Hecuba’s daughter-in-law, enters with her baby son swaddled in her shawl.
Andromache was married to Hector, the “good son” now killed in battle. His brother Paris, and his lust for Helen, was the cause of the war. Naturally Andromache is somewhat bitter, blaming her mother-in-law and bemoaning her fate.
Helen’s indecisive husband Menelaus (Scott Moore), the King of Sparta, arrives to take Helen home, and send his messenger Talthybius (also played by Andrew P. MacMaster), into the tent to get her. “But let’s have no violence,” he cautions. The Chorus ironically echo: “We are against violence! Let’s have no violence here!”
When Helen (Tara Zacharias) emerges, the infamous beauty refuses to take responsibility for her disastrous actions – “it wasn’t my fault,” she whines. “She [Hecuba] gave birth to Paris in the first place…I was an instrument of Fate!”
Director Alexandra Seay and her team of designers (Karen McMichael – set, Jennifer Fraser – lighting, Peter DeFreitas – costumes, Lily Ling – music) have created a little “shadow on the threshold of Nowhere”, perfect for what is essentially a waiting area as the women of Troy are only counting the minutes until their new masters claim them as slaves.
I was moved by the actors’ performances, which conveyed their feelings of powerlessness; their conviction that all was meaningless in their new existence: “Sing for the great city that cries out like a soul… This place, this place was Troy.”
Was lucky enough to grab a few words with ace costume designer Peter DeFreitas (Alumnae’s Closer in 2009, among many others) at the post-show reception, and he told me this is the first time he’s been prompted to start cutting fabric for costumes without sketching the designs first. Like a sculptor chipping away anything that doesn’t belong, the cloth inspired the designs, it seems. Peter gifted the cast and crew with beautiful, delicate drawings of the finished costumes. Why yellow for Helen? I wanted to know. Helen (who reminded me of a taller, willowy Marilyn Monroe) wears a strapless floor-length sheath with a semi-bustle effect at the back, in a bright yellow shiny fabric with black pattern. It just seemed right, was the answer – a bright splash of colour when everyone else was so somber.
Having recently (January 10) seen Nightwood Theatre’s production of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, which looks at the Trojan War from the point of a Greek woman, Penelope (Megan Follows), I was struck by many design elements and thematic direction (the voicelessness of women, especially in war) it has in common with The Trojan Women. Both shows use a chorus, both have costume pieces that become something else while the actors are still wearing them (Andromache’s shawl and Talthybius’ scarlet cape are used to heartbreaking effect), and both feature a pithy, self-aware heroine. I highly recommend seeing both shows!
The Trojan Women runs at Alumnae Theatre until February 4. www.alumnaetheatre.com
The Penelopiad runs at Buddies in Bad Times until January 29. http://www.nightwoodtheatre.net/index.php/whats_on/single_tickets