Shakespeare goes Greek

The play begins with a violent crash of noise – helicopters circling, the prison gates open and slam shut. The women of Troy enter, their heads shaven and clothing reflecting the horrible aftermath of war. Seasoned artistic director Michael Kahn brings to life “The Trojan Women,” the Shakespeare Theatre’s first Greek play.

All the action takes place inside the gray walls of a prison camp where the women are subject to verbal abuse from their Greek conquerors. Utilizing both present-day police gear and Greek chorus chanting, the play grabs the audience with its universal theme, exploring the aftermath of war. In “The Trojan Women,” it is the often unheard voices of women that tell of the sorrow and find the strength to carry on.

Euripides wrote the play for the Festival of Dionysia in 415 B.C., but his anti-war message filters through to modern times. Clothed from head to toe in blue, the God of the Sea, Poseidon (Jack Willis), begins the narration by setting the suffering tone of the women. The story centers around Hecuba (Petronia Paley), the former queen of Troy who saw her husband Priam killed in the war. She leads the chorus members to action, encourages them to think about their situation and inspires them to go on despite the awful circumstances.

Hecuba’s remarkable courage is offset by her daughter, Cassandra, the famous prophetess. Played by Opal Alladin, Cassandra provides a powerful look into the destiny of Trojan destruction. In what appears a fit of madness, she looks wide-eyed into the audience and sees the future of each person on stage. In these final minutes as a prophet, she describes her own premature death. Seconds later, the unsympathetic Greek officer, Talthybius (Andrew Long), takes her away.

While a tale of woe is never uplifting, the play has a morsel of comedy. One of the more humorous moments is when the scarlet-clothed Helen meets her estranged husband and seductively bends her story like the curve of her dress. A banter between them turns into a trial-like performance, which makes for excellent musings on Greek history and the cause of the war itself.

In the true style of Greek performance, the chorus offers interludes from the main action of the play. In equally entertaining and well-choreographed scenes, the six women of the chorus sing words of lamentation rather than traditionally chanting them. Harmonious in tune and time, their voices provide an uplifting summary of the war-time battles. These songs are a bright departure from the distracting music piped over the speaker system during the rest of the play.

The single set and uninterrupted action brings continuity to the show. It has no intermission, so the story flows smoothly. In fact, as the dramatic tension builds, time no longer seems to exist.

The attention immediately shifts to Andromache, widow of the brave warrior Hector, when she enters with her small child. She is wheeled into the prison on a cart, carrying her child on her husband’s shield. The young boy, played by Garrett Martin Schiponi, is to be sacrificed, and becomes the focus of the story. Representative of the complete annihilation of war, the boy is killed and his body brought back on to the stage for final mourning.

Although Euripides wrote the play almost 2,500 years ago, the entertaining show spans the centuries and provides insight into the effects of war on people and a nation.

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