Sunday, May 6, 2012
THE TROJAN WOMEN - THEATRE NEFELI VENTURES INTO GREEK TRAGEDY WITH GREAT SUCCESS
Reviewed by James Karas
Near the end of Euripides’s The Trojan Women the body of Astyanax, Hector’s young boy, is given to Hecuba for burial. The little boy has been murdered by the Greeks and his body is placed on his father’s spear to be adorned with some ornaments before burial. When the soldiers pick up the spear with the body, the audience in Hamaskayin Theatre gave a gasp and there was hardly a dry eye left in the house. It was the highlight of a fine production of the play by the Greek Community of Toronto’s Nefeli Theatre.
The Trojan Women was first produced in 415 B.C. and it is the ultimate requiem for victims of war, especially women and children. It tells the story of the fate of the women of the royal house of Troy after the Greeks sacked and destroyed that city. With all the men killed or gone, the women are herded together to be divided among the victorious Greeks as trophies. Division is made by the throw of dice.
Nancy Athan-Mylonas, Nefeli’s Artistic Director, has adapted the play by cutting out swaths of it, but in the end capturing the spirit of the work with the judicious use of music and dancing and highly convincing performances by some of the principals.
The Trojan Women is a static play that consists of the expression of grief, loss, anger and despair as the women face the ultimate in loss and humiliation. The choral odes are adjuncts to those sentiments but the play as written is difficult to produce. Athan-Mylonas has succeeded marvelously by modifying the play and unifying what she kept into a compelling representation of Greek Tragedy.
Hecuba, the widow of King Priam, is the central character of the play. Maria Hadjis does a superb job in the role. She walks with a cane and gives the impression of a woman who carries her own humiliation and the griefs of her children and her city on her shoulders.
Stella Mastrogiannakou plays the demented Cassandra who has been chosen by Agamemnon as his concubine. Mastrogiannakou presents an unhinged woman who is left with nothing but a horrible future. A well done performance.
The woman who has arguably the worst fate of all is Andromache, the young wife of the Trojan hero Hector. She too will be the trophy of a Greek warrior but she must also endure the murder of her son Astyanax. She provides a heart-wrenching performance.
Helen of Troy also makes an appearance. She is a Trojan woman by way of adultery and her husband Menelaos comes to claim her. Unlike the other woman she is bejeweled and dressed in a beautiful turquoise gown. Her former beauty is somewhat faded but her wits have not. She attempts to justify her behavior by blaming everyone else. Irene Bithas-Georgiadis who is usually type-cast in comic roles shows that she can act in serious parts as well as she dances circles around the hapless Menelaos, played well by Fotios Papadopoulos.
The Greek messenger Talthybios is played at stentorian volume that is quite appropriate for the role by Dimitris Kobiliris.
The production makes some effort to be bilingual and Athan-Mylonas has added English excerpts written by Production Manager Lydia Soldeville-Tombros for three narrators. They also take on the roles of Chorus Leaders. They are Donna Poulidis, Amy Bougiouklis and Anastasia Zanettoullis.
Athan-Mylonas makes effective use of several dozen children who rush onto the stage through the smoke in the opening scene. They are in a burning city and running away from flames and smoke.
The Chorus of Trojan woman is perhaps the most effective part of the production. They sing, dance and recite lines in a structured and moving fashion. They are dressed in black and wear kerchiefs with headbands suggesting a Middle Eastern setting. The music is well-chosen and the choral chants resonate beautifully. You can wisely ignore the final song.
Nefeli has been around for 21 years and one would have thought that Ancient Greek drama is their natural bailiwick. In fact this is only the second time that they have ventured into tragedy but they have done a Lysistrata.
Their success goes beyond all expectation despite the inherent difficulty of the genre and especially this play. There is little enough Greek drama being produced. This production has the advantage of introducing dozens of youngsters to Ancient Greek drama as well as reminding a lot of adults of its existence.
The Trojan Women by Euripides, adapted by Nancy Athan-Mylonas, was performed three times on April 28 and 29, 2012 at the Hamaskayin Theatre, Armenian Youth Centre, 50 Hallcrwon Place, Toronto. Ontario. www.theatre-nefeli.com or www.greekcommunity.org Telephone (416) 425-2485