Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Euripides

Hecuba and the women of Troy confront Helen in Euripides' The Trojan Women at the Flea Theater, September 2016,

Review | Euripides’ The Trojan Women | Adapted by Ellen McLaughlin | Directed by Anne Cecelia Haney | Flea Theater

“Another war has ended.  When will the next begin?”  Poseidon    

The Trojan Women is a daring and astonishing a play — it sails against the waves of the expected on  all counts.

Written 2,400 years ago by a Greek, The Trojan Women takes the point of view of the enemy – the Trojans of Homer’s epic Iliad.  How is that for astonishing?  Written by a man, it takes the point of view of women – the defenseless mothers and wives who, with the defeat of Troy, are to be taken as war booty.  Bewildered and despairing in war’s cruel aftermath, the Trojan women question the sanity and the existence of the gods. They lose the future.  They confront a world with no purpose.   How is that – all that — for daring?

In this adaptation by Ellen McLaughlin, the women of Troy, sleeping fitfully, are soon awakened to hear which woman will be taken off by which Greek.  These highborn women lament their futures based on what slaves always do:  from concubines to floor scrubbers to chicken feeders to taking care of other women’s children.

Lindsley Howard as Cassandra in Euripides' The Trojan Women at The Flea Theater, September 2016.. Photo Allison Stock.

Casssandra the Seer using her intelligence — not divine inspiration — to predict a tragic future. Lindsley Howard as Cassandra. Photo Allison Stock.

But among the women Cassandra the Seer, who will go to Greece as  Agamemnon’s  concubine, predicts the future through a different prism:  that of inference based on evidence.  Ten years ago Agamemnon, tricking his wife Clytaemnestra, had murdered –i. e. “sacrificed” to the gods” — their daughter in order to raise favorable winds to sail to Troy.  Clearly, as Cassandra reasons, upon his return to Greece, Clytaemnstra will kill Agamenon in revenge, and kill the concubine he brings home – Cassandra.  Eurpides transforms Cassandra from a Seer traditionally dependent on divine inspiration to speak the future (though not believed), into one who tells the future through reasoning – through her human intelligence.  So much for the gods.  And there it is — Greek humanism.

Hecuba and the women of Troy confront Helen in Euripides' The Trojan Women at the Flea Theater, September 2016,

Hecuba confronts Helen. L-R Clea DeCrane, Rebeca Rad (Helen) Jenny Jarnagi, DeAnna Supplee (Hecuba) Chun Cho, Amanda Centeno. Photo Allison Stock

When the Trojan women turn viciously on Helen of Troy, the ultimate cause of all their grief, Euripides provides a comparably brilliant inversion of Helen’s character.  She, like Cassandra, becomes a fast-talking logician but – true to character and in ironic contrast to Cassandra — in her selfish interest.

In a usual pattern of conquest, the Greeks, of course, can’t afford to let live the son of Hector, the greatest fighter of the Greeks.  The irony of what his mother Andromache says, in the moments before the child is literally ripped from her arms, is breathtaking.

Phil Feldman as Talthybius and Casey Wortmann as Andromache in The Trojan Women at the Flea Theater. Photo Allison Stock.

Irony and tragedy. Phil Feldman as Talthybius and Casey Wortmann as Andromache with her child. Photo Allison Stock.

The current production at the Flea makes the play, that is a cascade of dramatically intense situations, action and ideas, seem static.  The directing depends on outdated ideas of what Greek tragedy should look like and sound like rather than on a direct confrontation with the text.  The set and costuming are burdened by the same unimaginative vision.   The Bats, the Flea’s young repertory actors who have been brilliant in every past production I’ve seen, are here, like the rest of the production, burdened by the obvious.

These actors speak, however, with clarity and projection, and if you go, you will hear every word – and that’s worth plenty!  This production can be experienced as a kind of dramatic reading, which is one very good way to get to know a play.  In fact, this adaptation was originally presented as a staged reading at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan in 1996, and some of that format may cling to it.  In her adaptation, McLaughlin simplified the play somewhat and — much to the purpose of a staged reading – has individuals speak lines drawn from the unified Chorus that Euripides wrote.  An iconic anti-war play, The Trojan Women has often been performed in response to specific wars, and this adaptation was developed in collaboration with the Balkan Theater Project in response to the Bosnian War, and refugees from that war performed the Classic Stage production.

The highest irony meets the highest tragedy in The Trojan Women.  Some reviewers of this production suggest there’s something inherently static about Euripides’ play – don’t believe it!  The play is a cascade of dramatically intense situations, actions and ideas as the productions by  Elizabeth Swados and Andrei Serban at La Mama fully demonstrated — among the most thrilling, dynamic, action-filled theater I’ve seen.

Ancient Greek playwrights were thought of as teachers, and in writing this play Euripides was critiquing his own people, the Athenians in attendance at the city dramatic festival, for their brutal depredations in the course of the Peloponnesian War.  That the lesson wasn’t learned, and has never been learned, is part of Euripides’ tragic awareness.  The play starts with the god Poseidon’s words, “Another war has ended.”  And then immediately, “When will the next begin?”

The Trojan Women plays at the Flea Theater in Manhattan’s Tribeca district through September 30,2016.  For more information and tickets, click here.

Review | An Oresteia, plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides translated by Anne Carson | Classic Stage Company

  … cycles of vengeance …

“Oresteia” refers to Aeschylus’ trilogy about the chain of vengeance murders in the House of Atreus — House as in “noble family who live in the palace”.  Classic Stage begins their Oresteia with Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, moving to Sophocles’ Elektra for part two, and Euripides’ Orestes for part three.  How often does one have the chance to see together three great Greek tragedies fully produced!  This is an ambitious project, and worthwhile for bringing these exciting and profound works to new audiences.  This production has excellent qualities, including Anne Carson’s naturalistic but intense translations and some peaks of acting, though some aspects are less satisfying.

… Agamemnon …

In Aeschylus’ play, the Greek leader in the Trojan War, Agamemnon, returns home to Argos where he, and his captive concubine, Cassandra, are soon murdered by his wife, Klytaimnestra. This is a vengeance killing:  the Greeks sailing to Troy had found themselves becalmed and Agamemnon, in search of a favorable wind had sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenaia, to the gods.

After seeing this production, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Stephanie Roth Haberle in the role of Klytaimnestra: she has a strong and richly inflected voice, and with her tall and exceedingly narrow form and in her blood red dress she seems the very embodiment of a sharp-edged weapon.  As Agamemnon, though, Steve Mellor opts for a casual hands in his pocket effect and doesn’t project his voice; perhaps this is intended to deconstruct a cliche of the proud and triumphant ruler, but Agamemnon a wimp?  Cassandra screams and gyrates but does not reach the character’s emotional depth.  In general, throughout this production the actors seem to be straining for effect, notable exceptions being in the magnificent performances of Haberle as Klytaimnestra and Annika Boras as Elektra.

The versatile, red stained plywood backdrop for all three plays evokes the bloody constant in this House.  During Agamemnon, though, the set was pulled forward blocking sight of the stage to those sitting on the sides, the explanation being that this was “alternative seating”;  it struck me and others as less than respectful to those stuck in the alternate seats.

… Elektra …

In Sophocles’ Electra, Orestes, the son of Klytaimnestra and Agamemnon, returns from exile and kills his mother in vengeance for her murder of his father.  The straightforward English of Anne Carson’s translation makes the great arguments of this play excitingly immediate.  This is also particularly successful among the three plays because the large role of the bitter and uncompromising Elektra is played by an outstanding actor, Annika Boras.  If you don’t know Sophocles well, here’s a chance to see the brilliant way he writes hot and building verbal conflicts between two characters whose points of view are totally irreconcilable.  The most famous Sophoclean argument is in Antigone (see Pearl Theatre’s Theban Cycle, here below in October) but Elektra’s arguments are equally dazzling.  Boras’ sardonic Elektra argues with Haberle’s haughty, frightened Klytaimnestra — great on great.  Michi Barall as Elektra’s conventionally minded sister doesn’t have as strong a voice to counter Boras but does well enough to let the playwrights words come through so you can “get” it.

It’s amusing to see the Chorus of “Women of Mycenae” turned into two sunbathing women and a man around the pool, with sunglasses — that’s OK — but on the other hand it’s illogical that these friends and confidants of Elektra are allowed to live the life of Reilly in Klytaimnestra’s palace while she and her paramour, Aigisthos, are hatefully demeaning Elektra herself.

… Orestes …

Even if you know what’s coming, Euripides’ Orestes shocks by its apparent cynicism.  The questions of Euripides’ attitudes toward his fellow human beings and the gods is continually — perhaps eternally — debated and the play puts the ambiguities on display.  None of the characters, including the god Apollo, is high-minded and there’s no indication of redemption such as one finds in Aeschylus.  Mickey Solis plays Orestes as anxiety ridden and deeply depressed — getting out of bed is a challenge.  It’s reasonable to interpret Orestes’ pursuit by the Furies in terms of modern psychology (and Euripides is often called “the most modern of the playwrights”) but one needs to keep in mind:  only six days have passed since he killed his mother.  Give the boy some time!  Still, Euripides leaves us feeling that there’s not much peace of mind ahead for this matricide in any event.

A fine and daring aspect of this Orestes was to turn Euripides’ Chorus of Women of Argos, along with Hermione, daughter of Helen of Troy, into singers and musicians.  Daring because so little is known about Greek singing, but the choral odes were certainly sung and danced:  contemporary melodies, dance and instrumentation, as here, are creative ways to acknowledge what’s unknown while maintaining the pleasures of music.  With some of the performers the singing was beautiful and insinuating — new but, yes, pure Euripides — though with others, the singing masked Euripides’ poetry.

Three playwrights — of any epoch — carrying through on a single narrative line is rare and of great interest.  There are some rough edges here but the cumulative effect of this Oresteia brings one in touch with the powers of the classical Greek playwrights to move and to provoke thought.

Agamemnon and Elektra are directed by Brian Kulick and Gisela Cardenas, and Orestes is directed by Paul Lazar, and associate directed and choreographed by Annie-B Parson.

An Oresteia plays at Classic Stage in NYC East Village through April 19, 2009.  Choices between seeing the three plays on one Sunday (I did) or two on one night and one another.

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