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A CurtainUp Review

The Trojan Women

In the end, this is all there is. Only an idiot chooses war.
---The Trojan Women
"Welcome to a dead city," begins Classical Theatre of Harlem's stunning new adaptation of Euripedes' The Trojan Women. This is story about the aftermath of war--more particularly, the devastation that women bear, after their husbands and sons are dead or missing and their homes destroyed.

The women in question are what's left of Troy's population, shortly after its capture by the Greeks. All the men are dead or missing; the women and children are all captives. They are to be divided up amongst the conquerors as spoils of war, handed out randomly as concubines, often to the same men they watched kill their husbands and sons.

Led by the former queen of Troy, the women are alternately broken and full of shrieking rage, flinching at every loud noise and touch. Periodically, they erupt, literally climbing the walls. Otherwise, they are limp, dead, staring.

Director Alfred Preisser's adaptation incorporates stories of recent wars--Sierra Leone, Somalia, Baghdad, Rwanda--with references to TV, military targets, Muslims and Christians, and AK-47s. The women describe modern war atrocities--massacres, roving guerilla bands, rape camps. A wimpy diplomat divides them up. As he , casually separates mothers from daughters, he apologizes profusely, but still takes Andromache's baby --son of the dead Trojan war hero Hector-- to be thrown from the top of the city's battlements. When the child's mother breaks down, the diplomat finally breaks, as well: "You think things are supposed to be fair? You lost!"

In Euripedes' story, the play ends with the destruction of Troy. The prologue looks into the future, when the conquerors will wreck during their sea voyage home, because they have abused their power and turned the gods against them. But in this version, the women are simply killed or divided. There is no justice, no revenge. The women who were not chosen as concubines are simply shot; only a young ten-year-old girl escapes, shouting, "Remember me." to which one of the women declares "Now you know the bitterness of war." It is indeed a shrill denunciation of imperialism and aggression.

CTH, known for its revisionist stagings of classics (Mother Courage, The Blacks, The Crazy Locomotive). The Blacks was a glorious confusion, an exercise in intentional mayhem; The Trojan Women is a stark, haunting portrayal of war, as visually arresting as it is aurally.

The women are caged, behind walls of chicken wire and two heavy doors that lead to an Auschwitz-like loading area. Armed guards patrol the catwalk along the top, aided by slowly drifting prison lights. Helen (Zainab Jah) is separated into her own cage, on a pedestal with her own light. And rightly so--as the cause of the Trojan War and all their suffering, the women would tear her to pieces if they could. The stage looks like a dungeon inside a demilitarized zone. Trapped underground, the women can only await the final humiliation.

The cast is magnificent, rich in emotional truth. Cassandra's speech (Giselle Jones) is the high point of the show -- that is verbally speaking, anyway; the visual high point of the show comes later when we watch the terrors of the last ten years slowly but irrevocably eat away the last of her defenses and then her sanity. Led by Under Alfred Preisser direction the chorus of women flourish -- first-rate xample of the power of ensemble acting.

The Trojan Women is one of the most powerful portrayals of the brutality of war I've ever seen. It's just 80 minutes long and well worth the trek into Harlem.

The Blacks
Mother Courage and Her Children
The Crazy Locomotive

Written by Euripedes
Adapted and directed by Alfred Preisser
Cast: Onyemaechi Aharanwa, Tamela Aldridge, Brie Eley, Phyre Hawkins, Zora Howard, Kerisse Hutchinson, Rain Jack Tracy Jack, Aman Re-Jack, Zainab Jah, Giselle Jones, Ty Jones, Anthony Lalor, Tonya Latrice, Lizan Mitchell, Folake Olowofoyeku, Ron Simons, Damani Varnado, Channie Waites, and Robyne Landiss Walker
Lighting Design by Aaron Black
Costume Design by Kimberly Glennon
Set Design by Troy Hourie
Running time: One hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission
Classical Theater of Harlem; Harlem School of the Arts Theatre, 645 St. Nicolas Avenue (at 141st Street); 212-868-4444
4/01/04 to 4/25/04
Tickets: $19
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on April 10th performance
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