The Trojan Women at UCSB

Euripides’ Tragedy of War and its Discontents

A Greek soldier holds Hecuba (Madeline Minor) at gunpoint while the chorus of Trojan women looks on in UCSB's <em>The Trojan Women</em>.
David Bazemore

From the opening scene in which the gods Poseidon (David Santana) and Athena (Amanda Berning) stride out in surreal make-up, psychedelic costumes — and walking on 10-foot stilts — it’s clear this will not be just another production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. Director Jeff Mills draws from his BOXTALES bag of tricks throughout the evening and makes the most of his talented design team: Andrew Karlin (scenic), Valerie Mondo (costumes), and Vickie J. Scott (lighting). In this ambitious reimagining of Jean-Paul Sartre’s version of the ancient Greek play, the Trojan women are dressed in the burkas and long-sleeved tunics of modern Muslim women, and the Greek soldiers wear the camouflage desert fatigues now familiar from both The Hurt Locker and the news. The story depicts the reactions of the widows of the Trojan dead as they receive the news from Talthybios (Sean Harrigan), a Greek herald. As Harrigan plays him, Talthybios is a good soldier who wants to carry out his orders with a minimum of conflict, but Hecuba (Madeline Minor) thwarts his attempts to gloss over the cruelty of the Greeks’ plans for their feminine spoils. Alexia Dox does an outstanding job as the prophetess Cassandra, unfurling several lengthy and intensely poetic speeches with a propulsive energy and no hint of pedestrian recitation.

The Trojan Women fairly bristles with the righteous indignation of mothers and daughters, as Andromache (Joelle Golda) soon joins Cassandra in reviling her captors. She has even more reason to hate what is happening — her daughter Polyxena has been sacrificed, she is enslaved to the estate of Achilles, and, her son with Hector, Astyanax, is scheduled to be killed within a matter of hours. It seems the Greeks fear that letting the Trojan king’s heir live would encourage rebellion. In the play’s most compelling twist, the bound Helen counters the mood of Trojan complaint by throwing herself on the mercy of her former husband Menelaus. Annabelle Rollison makes a splendid Helen, sexy and high-spirited with a hint of menace. Overall, this is a very worthy contemporary investigation of a truly great ancient text.

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