It is impossible not to compare The Trojan Women at Alumnae Theatre with Nightwood Theatre’s The Penelopiad, as they are running concurrently. They are both tales from the canon of the ancient Greeks and have been written for the modern day by fantastic female Canadian writers – The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and The Trojan Women by Gwendolyn MacEwen.
Further similarities include an excellent use of fabric in costumes/props/set dressings to convey a myriad of things, and the inclusion of some humour into the tragic tales.
Not that The Trojan Women could ever be rendered a comedy. The story is about the women of Troy mourning the loss of their city and their families as they wait for the conquering Athenians to ship them off into slavery. But there are a few chuckles here and there, which is what makes a tragedy work for me. While watching a show, my ability to feel sadness dissipates if it is not occasionally jolted by some levity.
The most comedic part of the play is the scene where Menelaus appears to claim his wife Helen, who started the war by leaving him for Paris of Troy. Menelaus, played by Scott Moore, is very amusing as he deliberates on killing Helen while obviously being too interested in her carnally to follow through. Unfortunately this was offset by the characterization of Helen, who was portrayed as a valley girl type, which seemed anachronistic and out of sync with the rest of the play.
Molly Thom as Hecuba was every inch a bitter, ruined queen, and she must have incredible reserves of energy to play so much grief and anger for the whole show every night. Other than the chorus, she is the only character who is onstage the entire time.
Nicole St. Martin is heart-wrenching as Andromache, who undergoes the ultimate loss in her scene which includes a bit of staging that creates a powerful image. Sochi Fried plays a very sexed up Cassandra and Andrew P. McMaster plays Talthybius, the Athenian who comes to cart each woman away, far more sympathetically that one would expect from the role.
The use of singing and rhythm is at times dissonant, jumbled and odd. I think this was on purpose to benefit the atmosphere of chaos and destruction, and it worked for me as such.
McEwen adapted The Trojan Women in the 1970s but it is not a reimagining – it is still the classic story by Euripides, so the storytelling and character development as written was not what my companion was used to and she felt it was difficult to stay engaged. I, however, have been exposed to a lot of ancient Greek literature so I quite enjoyed it.
The Trojan Women at Alumnae obviously has a much lower budget than The Penelopiad, but they do well with the resources at hand, and the two are very interesting companion pieces if you are able to see both. Afterwards, however, you – especially if, like me, you also just saw Tosca – may be filled with the desire to only see nice light comedies where nothing horrible happens to women for quite some time.
– The Trojan Women is playing at Alumnae Theatre, 70 Berkeley Street, until February 4th.
– Shows are Wednesday to Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday Matinée at 2:00 pm
– Tickets are Wednesday (2-for-1), Thursday, Friday & Saturday for $20 and PWYC on Sunday Matinée
– Tickets are available online at www.totix.ca, or for cash-only reservations email email@example.com or phone 416-364-4170 (Box 1).
Photo of the chorus by Dahlia Katz