Trojan Women is tragically flawed

Senior acting major Olivia Lemmon plays Queen Hecuba of Troy in the School of Drama’s production of Trojan Women: A Love Story. (credit: Courtesy of the School of Drama) Senior acting major Olivia Lemmon plays Queen Hecuba of Troy in the School of Drama’s production of Trojan Women: A Love Story. (credit: Courtesy of the School of Drama)

Trojan Women: A Love Story, the School of Drama’s latest production, is a modern reinterpretation of the aftermath of the Trojan War. The play opens with a classical Greek chorus. Actors wearing masks appear before a curtain, one representing Hecuba, and the others representing women who lament the fate of Troy. Then an explosion, representing the nuclear bomb that has been dropped on the city of Troy in this modern adaption, blows the chorus away and the curtains open to reveal a home torn asunder as if by an earthquake. The frame is disjointed from the rest of the house, the furniture is thrown about, and the people and their possessions are littered on the floor.

More of a character study than a plot-driven play, Trojan Women focuses on how each individual woman has been affected by the destruction of Troy. As junior dramaturgy major Kate Robinson explains in the program, “We do not seek to recount the death tolls, the threats, or the politics behind these contemporary struggles, but rather the stories of the subjugated, the victimized, and the plundered: those seen as objects to be traded, or prizes won.”

Queen Hecuba of Troy, played by senior acting major Olivia Lemmon, delivers a powerful opening monologue to set the scene. Troy is “a world destroyed by those who thought themselves the creators of civilization,” where “optimists believe they will be buried next to their families,” and “the world is a bleeding wound lit by the sun’s last glow.”

From the wreckage emerge the other members of the royal household: Hecuba’s daughter-in-law Andromache, played by senior acting major Colleen Pulawski, twirls onto the stage in a printed flower dress and a heart heavy with resentment. She is upset that her spotless reputation, which she strove to maintain at the cost of personal fulfillment, is now meaningless in the face of the destruction. Furthermore, the Greek soldiers discover her infant son and rip him from her arms to be killed, leaving Andromache sobbing that her desperate measures to protect her son were all for nothing.

Suddenly, the prophetic princess Cassandra, played by senior acting major Madeline Wolf, pops up, singing “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. It’s an abrupt mood killer to what had been a very touching scene, especially since the character is so maniacal and brash. Cassandra’s anger and energy incites the other women, but she quickly runs off stage as the Greeks chase after her.

Polyxena, played by senior acting major Cathryn Dylan, is Hecuba’s youngest daughter, whom the Greeks want to sacrifice. It is apparent that she is young, as her clothes all seem to have been bought from Hot Topic. Polyxena gives herself up despite her mother’s willingness to be sacrificed in her stead.

She then starts a rather awkward conversation about why men don’t call before she is ripped from her mother’s arms.

Helen, played by senior musical theatre major Maya Maniar, gets the full spotlight treatment when she walks on stage dressed in (there is no way to put this tastefully) stripper-iffic lingerie. Helen is the character deserving the least sympathy; she is least affected by Troy’s woes and blames everyone around her for why she left with Hecuba’s son Paris for Troy, starting off the decade-long war between the two nations.

After Polyxena dies and Hecuba sees the body, she declares “savagery must be answered with savagery.” This realization prompts her to seek out her hiding son Aeneas and tells him to gather whomever is left in Troy, flee, and one day take revenge on the Greeks.

The play emphasizes the fragility of women and brutality of men, but also offers more of a nuanced view on gender politics. The Greek soldiers, portrayed by senior musical theater major Philippe Arroyo and senior acting major Luke LaMontagne, are opportunistic brutes who try to justify their behavior, while the Greek messenger Talthybius, played by senior acting major Brady Dowad, is a diplomat in suit and tie who is rigidly duty bound. Helen’s husband Menelaus, played by senior acting major Sawyer Pierce, wants to kill Helen but eventually his lust for her is greater than his wrath. There is also Aeneas, the Trojan prince who is just as shattered as any of the women of Troy, but who the women brand as a coward.

The most interesting parts of the production are the exchanges between the Greeks and Trojans. At times, they sling insults at one another. At other times, they come to a quiet tolerance and occasional moments of pity. There is such a fluid line between enmity and humanity, as well as disgust and sympathy. It’s not quite a love story, but it’s definitely an interesting conversation between the conquered and their conquerors.

However, the play seems to meander a lot in tone and direction. There doesn’t seem to be enough focus on one particular character or subject to establish a strong connection with them. Also, some of the music featured in the play can seem strange. At the end, Polyxena with her throat cut sings a song called “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” which sounds like it should be at the end of a quirky indie film rather than a play about war and destruction. Furthermore, the play’s numerous reworkings, from ancient Greece to the 18th century to modern day, results in dialogue that is partly formal and prose-like, mixed in with modern day language, references to TV, and explicit references to sex. It seems wildly foreign to any time period, whether Greek antiquity or modern day.

These odd shifts in tone can make it challenging to follow Trojan Women at times, and it can be unclear whether the play is trying to be tragic and harrowing, ironic, or objective. Though there are many individually engaging scenes and aspects of the play, the overall work would benefit from being more structured around a central tone.