In Euripides’ “The Trojan Women” (as translated by Edith Hamilton), the prolonged war between Greece and Troy has ended and the women of Troy await their fates as spoils of the war — slaves to their conquerors. Their husbands and sons have been killed, their once glorious community brought down.
The Commonwealth Theatre Center production, directed by Hallie Dizdarevic, brings together adults teaching artists and students ages 6 years old and up to create the ensemble that translates this tragedy on stage.
The production also was a learning experience for those involved with modern political conflicts. According to the director, “Support from the Kentucky Foundation for Women enabled CTC students and teaching artists to go beyond the production and raise awareness in the community about the experiences of local refugees.”
CTC worked with the ESL Newcomer Academy at the Shawnee and Americana World Community Center. Donation bins for Kentucky Refugee Ministries‘ winter wish list are available in the lobby, as are representatives from local nonprofits serving refugees.
Dizdarevic’s program notes go deep into the connections between the conflict of the ancient play and current events. The actors are in modern dress (costume design by Lindsay Chamberlin). Cassandra (Zoe Peterson) delivers her final speech as a torch-bearing, gown-wearing Lady Liberty. The show closes to the tune of the Cranberries’ “Zombie” (rest in peace, Delores O’Riordan).
“I want people to see this play and the outstanding work put in by our cast, production team and outreach partners,” said Dizdarevic. “But I also want audiences to take what they see and do something about it.”
So, escapism this is not.
Teaching artist Jennifer Pennington leads the cast with her powerful, fallen Queen Hecuba, now relegated to the status of an “old gray head” and slated to be a slave to a Greek leader.
Pennington, a vet of Kentucky Shakespeare and Theatre , sets the emotional tone of the short (75-minute) production.
If this were “Spinal Tap,” that tone would frequently “go up to 11.” The Trojan women will not go to their fates quietly. The ensemble works as a chorus to express its relentless grief in wails and screams. The beauty of the text provides no relief from the power of the emotions it expresses.
The young women and girls of the Chorus embrace their roles and the challenge of delivering such fraught performances with vigor.
Heather Burns, also a CTC teaching artist, provides contrast with her dialed-back grief as Andromache, a woman who has lost her husband and must hand over her young son (a precious Zachary Werts) to be thrown to his death from the highest wall in the village.
Despite the fact that all the women and girls faced the same fate, it was Burns — who, by the way, we don’t see on stage nearly enough these days — and her tears that drove home the emotional toll.
Other student actors delivered solid performances. Shannon Bradley played Helen with “mean girl” cunning. Joseph Heberle’s Menelaus is properly menacing. Jude Stivers plays Talthybius as the stereotypical “good cop.”
(“Sure, I just tossed your kid off a wall, but I’m going to help you bury him because I am not like those other guys.”)
In the best of times, this is a brutal play; in times like these, that brutality feels all the more palpable. As the program notes, “As the world contends with the greatest refugee crises since World War II — from Syria to Myanmar and in every war zone around the world — this ancient Greek play is a reminder of the terrible human price of armed conflict.”
“The Trojan Women” continues through Feb. 3. Tickets for evening shows are $15 for adults and $10 for students/seniors. Tickets for Saturday matinees are $10 for adults and $8 for students/seniors. CTC is located at 1123 Payne St.