TROY: City of Love
Written and directed by Alexander Ferguson. Adapted from The Trojan Women by Euripides. A Studio 58 production.
At Studio 58 until Sunday, October 17
It's like rafting on an unpredictable river. Overall, there's not a lot of power in the flow: there's no compelling central force running through Alexander Ferguson's adaptation of Euripides' The Trojan Women. TROY: City of Love meanders in stylistic tangents and long speeches. Clichés bob in the writing like debris. But there are eddies, little whirlpools of sudden intensity that are so original and compelling they make the trip into an adventure.
The Trojan Women imagines the aftermath of the siege of Troy, which was already ancient history by the time Euripides wrote about it. But Euripides, who was Athenian, was referring metaphorically to a tragedy of his day, the brutal colonization of Melos by Athens in 415 BC. And the story's fixation, the seemingly endless human appetite for the cruelties of war, is as resonant as ever. Trojan women: the women of Iraq.
The story is a classic: the Greek general Agamemnon destroys Troy and slaughters its families because his sister-in-law, Helen, left her husband for the handsome Trojan, Paris. Euripides was famous for his experimentation with an early form of naturalism that presents aristocratic tragic figures as morally ordinary, and Ferguson takes that irreverent approach even further. Hecuba says to her daughter, Cassandra, who foretells the future, "Try not to be so interesting." And, describing his first meeting with the visionary virgin, Agamemnon says: "She probably shit herself then and there. Well, for sure. I could smell it." Unfortunately, Agamemnon's fecal fixation is too crude to be funny, and a lot of the other supposedly earthy stuff--like Hecuba's cry of despair, "Screw this. Screw this. This is bullshit"--falls flat.
Sections that are meant to be witty, including Agamemnon's rant about Achilles' vegetarian period, are dull filler, and some language that's supposed to be poetic--"a carpet of leaves, fire-red and golden"--would be booed out of a beginners' creative-writing class.
But some of the script works. And the stuff that does comes from a surprising variety of angles. Ferguson's Agamemnon can be as darkly absurd as the cowboy who rides the atom bomb in Dr. Strangelove; I particularly enjoyed a passage in which he has to talk himself down from hyperventilating. And there's a beautiful scene in which Hecuba, pleading for her daughter Polyxena's life, opens Agamemnon's military jacket and embraces him as she speaks, desperately trying to use the simple vulnerability of human touch to break through the lunatic's macho shell.
Ferguson's Polyxena is a fascinating creature; apparently a bimbo, she reveals herself as a pragmatic survivor. And the playwright gives her a stunning speech. When she realizes that she will be murdered so that she can join the dead Achilles as his bride in the afterlife, she recites an incantation that deftly expresses the absurd inversions that underlie both the comic and tragic elements of this script. She says: "I accept everything... I accept that the land of the dead is the land of life... that funerals are weddings... that in the underworld flowers grow down from the sky... that possession is affection... that hatred is love... that your enemy is your protector..."
Under Ferguson's direction, the large student cast does an impressive job with his difficult text. Josue Laboucane fearlessly fills Agamemnon's ridiculous size. And Tara Jean Wilkin is remarkably authoritative and mature as Hecuba.
Sometimes TROY: City of Love is effective. Sometimes it's not. But it is always, always ambitious, and I'm grateful for that.