Reviewed in this essay: The Trojan Women, from Alumnae Theatre Company. Translated and adapted by Gwendolyn MacEwen. Directed by Alexandra Seay. Produced by PJ Hammond & Tabitha Keast. Until February 4th at Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, Toronto. 416-364-4170 or http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/tickets.html.
In Gwendolyn MacEwen’s adaptation of The Trojan Women, the world of men is defined by war, rash passions and unrestrained violence. Euripides originally wrote the play during the Peloponnesian War as a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent subjugation of its populace by the Athenians. Against the background of the sacked and burned city, we follow the fates of the women of Troy as they wait to be taken away as slaves and mistresses of their enemies. MacEwen’s version is decidedly more existential than the original, as she removes the opening scene which displays a conversation between Poseidon and Athena, and any subsequent scenes where the gods are present. The terrifying suspicion that Cassandra continually utters—“There are no gods!”—gains exceptional force in the absence of divine entities.
Director Alexandra Seay makes some particularly interesting dramatic choices in her staging of the chorus, straying from a vision of Greek chorus as made up of disembodied voices to present embodied figures that possess a real onstage presence. The carefully choreographed footwork and dance, coupled with a few interesting demonstrations of individual personality, adds a haunting dimension to the chorus’ performance. The chorus also stands out because of the exceptionally bare staging, which emphasizes Troy’s new destiny as the place falls into “the shadow on the threshold of nowhere.”
However, it is Molly Thom’s performance of Hecuba, the ravaged dethroned queen of Troy, which is certainly the play’s crowning achievement. Thom expertly illustrates the despair, enduring wisdom and wry humour that characterize the once-great queen. Despite the play’s somberness and fatalism, Thom’s Hecuba offers comic relief in a perfectly droll tone, bringing out the tragicomic element of MacEwen’s adaption.
MacEwen’s vision of The Trojan Women was first performed in 1978, and staged at Alumnae Theatre during its 1992/93 season. Nearly twenty years after its Alumnae debut, the performance still manages to highlight radical elements of feminist criticism, while staying true to the historical specificity of Euripides’ classic drama.