The Comedy of Errors: Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble, 9/4/11

9 09 2011

The Comedy of Errors: Review for Stage & Cinema

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Trojan Women (After Euripides): SITI Company, 9/7/11

9 09 2011

The Trojan women are not hysterical. With the exception of Kassandra who is blessed (and cursed) with foresight, these women are not mad. The clean and classical lines of SITI Company’s Trojan Women (After Euripides) confer rationality, nobility, and wisdom on these prisoners of war. They are articulate and authoritative, grounded and assertive, as they navigate the implications of the fall of Troy. So on the few occasions when these women do wail at the loss of their home and all their closest relations, their agony resonates.

Although Euripides’ Trojan Women is often considered a play in which “nothing happens,” SITI Company’s current production at the Getty Villa – newly adapted by Jocelyn Clarke – packs a powerful political punch into the interlocking stories of the Queen of Troy Hecuba, her daughter Kassandra, her daughter-in-law Andromache, and Helen of Troy. After the Greek army’s invasion, each woman waits to be dragged away from the wracked city by her new master. The women share their woes in the aftermath of the violence: they dip into memories of the past and foresee the dismal future. Their densely-layered storyscape is enhanced by subtle shifts in lighting and sound, crafting a prismatic chronicle of war’s impact on civilian women and children. Christian Frederickson’s music is of particular note, juxtaposing the live and the prerecorded – the aching melodies of his violin against computerized rhythms – in a play of free will against fate.

The militaristic authority of men radically structures these women’s lives. Clarke incorporates the wordy and shrewd war hero Odysseus (Gian-Murray Gianino) into this adaptation; smug and self-assured, he commands the stage with his decisive words and deeds. Little does he know that he is fated to wander for ten years following the Trojan War – for indeed, a higher authority structures his existence. Poseidon’s prologue (commandingly delivered by Brent Werzner) and his physical omnipresence further complicates questions of fate and free will. This god’s expansive gestures guide characters’ speeches and actions, shake the earth and even topple towers.

Still, the Trojan women are far from helpless victims at the hands of men and the gods. Their powerful performative presence often exceeds the strictures of their lives. When Menelaus (J. Ed Araiza) arrives to claim his unfaithful wife, Helen (Katherine Crockett) presents a shockingly logical and convincing argument for her infidelity. A stunning six-foot-tall blonde, Crockett’s Helen physically commands the stage; she towers above her husband and calmly strides the room in a sexy sheer dress, revealing her long legs to enhance her arguments as needed. Unfortunately, Crockett’s vocal authority is less assured than Ellen Lauren’s masterful Hecuba, Queen of Troy. Hecuba’s argument for Helen’s death is both compellingly rational and emotional, a plea for revenge against the woman whose beauty started the war. Hecuba’s voice is worn with wisdom and asserts her queenly authority, although she has now been reduced to a slave.

Anne Bogart’s stunning minimalist direction is built on slow and meditated motion, creating stage images that feel like paintings on a piece of ancient pottery – tableaux that subtly shift across time. Broken diagonals and the angularity of toppled chairs are juxtaposed with sprawling circles, including the circularity of time itself. Kassandra (Akiko Aizawa) flits across the stage in roving circles at a heightened pace; her mad laughter echoes in the ghost chamber of the museum’s interior as time rushes on. Yet when a premonition grabs her, Kassandra is pinned to a spotlight center stage; her voice deepens and her stance widens with the heavy weight of foresight.

It is in this same spotlight that Hecuba both begins and ends the show: a wife who has lost her husband, a mother who has lost her sons, a queen now bound to be a slave. Her body convulses and collapses to the floor – but she refuses help as she slowly, consciously pushes herself up again. This repeated motion – swift collapse and slow, measured recovery –  is a gripping physicalization of the plight of the civilian in times of war, a plight which echoes into our present.

Indeed, many of the envoy’s speeches about militaristic necessity throughout SITI Company’s Trojan Women feel distinctly contemporary, perhaps ripped from the speeches of George W. Bush encouraging the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. If we uncomfortably align the United States with the Greeks, fighting from a dubious and perhaps even God-mandated “necessity,” then who are the Trojan women whose villages we sack and whose children we kill? What does it mean for us to recognize their right to speak and to mourn? And how can we be a part of the recovery, instead of the collapse?