Sunday, May 20, 2012
Trojan Women By Euripides Translated by Francis Blessington: Whistler in the Dark Theater Company
The Factory Theater, 791 Tremont St. Boston
May 18th to June 2nd, 2012
Director Ben Evett
Light Design PJ Strachman
Set Design Natalie Laney
Sound Design Chris Larson
Contact Jen O’Connor: 508-944-2939
Admission $20.00 Students $10.00
Review by Dennis Daly
Scurrying along the base of the looming, chemically-stained building, through the parking lot, under the steam pipe, down the twisted steps and into a forbidding white-washed brick, claustrophobia-inducing passageway, the door wedged open with a boulder, I arrived at the Factory Theater. And then it got better, much better.
On opening night the Trojan Women played to a packed theater. The experience was unforgettable. The light, set, sound, and costume designers worked magic. You could hear the creaking of Greek ships and almost smell the tide as it rolled in. Audience members sat among the cast on the gritty stage as the play began and crazed, damaged women in torn dresses roamed among them, obviously in shock.
The intimate seating arrangement I liked very much; it produces an edgy magic. One moment Helen of Troy seduces you with her eye contact, the next moment a Greek chorus addresses you with a heart-rending dirge. We were all amazed when, in the distance, Troy burned, and we all watched that awful spectacle together in the same confined camp-space.
The acting ensemble consists of eight players and two of them have multiple roles. The three women that make up the chorus mingle silently with the audience when they are not reciting a choral piece. Their facial expressions and their graceful movements would put many professional mimes to shame. They are that good.
Nathaniel Grundy storms onto the stage as an angry but resigned Poseidon. He wants revenge for the destruction of his especial city and will eventually get it, albeit, after the action of the play. As Menelaus he convinces both with his gratuitous cruelty and with his weak-kneed surrender to Helen’s charms. But it is in the role of Talthybius, the herald, which he really shines. His occasional humanity as he delivers his messages in the midst of horror surprises and reassures us that some vestige of goodness still survives this scenario of total devastation.
Aimee Rose Ranger rules the stage in all four of her roles. She is clearly doing what she is meant to do. As Athena she is spiteful and conniving. As Cassandra knowledge leads her to insanity. As Andromache she brings us to tears with a mother’s pathos. And, as Helen, Ranger truly soars, exuding sex and guile throughout her amazing performance.
Rosalind Thomas Clark convinces as Hecuba, the fallen queen of Troy. Her strength in facing the apocalyptic terrors is moving and understandable to modern sensibilities. The dark stories of Cormac McCarthy comes to mind.
But the glue that keeps this all together and makes it work is the writing of the translator Francis Blessington. His lyrical tone builds an airy and transparent atmosphere about the action that seems to keep everything in motion, even when the subject is havoc and slaughter. Listen,
What’s not for me to cry about?
My country, children, husband all have perished.
The grandness of my ancestors
Cut short: how are you nothing now.
Why be silent? Why not?
Miserable I am, under a heavy fate
That lies upon my limbs—what torture!
My back stretched on a hard bed.
My head! My temples!
My ribs! I wish to pitch
And roll my back and spine
On both sides, always
Weeping elegies in song.
And even this is music to the wretched:
To sing their ruin without a dance.
I notice that on occasion a contemporary phrase sneaks into the poetic speeches and this technique works quite well. When Helen is defending herself before her Greek husband, Menalaus, she recounts her side of the story and argues that she was a pawn in a game played by the gods and was in fact abandoned before she was abducted from her home in Greece. She seems to take a momentary break and then says,
Not you, but I, shall question myself:
What was I thinking…
That’s pretty funny considering the awful context of this defensive speech.
Euripides’ Hecuba, as portrayed in Blessington’s often riveting poetry, is an existential character. She believes life is preferable to the alternative—even in a concentration camp. She prays to the gods but she is not too sure that they are there. At one point she prays,
O support of earth, having your seat on earth—
Air or Zeus—whoever you are, difficult to know,
Either necessity of nature or mind of man..
See this extraordinary play. You’ll not regret it.