Trojan Women (After Euripides)
Jocelyn Clarke’s highly modernized adaptation of Euripides’ enduring drama, set in the sickening silence between the end of the Iliad and the beginning of the Odyssey. In the ruins of their burning city, the royal women of Troy—still mourning the slaughter of their husbands and sons—await enslavement and exile. Among the greatest of all anti-war dramas, the play is a timeless meditation on the moments of individual choice that separate death and life, despair and hope, future and past.
SITI Company’s production of Trojan Women was commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Museum and was first presented at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles.
Note About Process
After the success of what was supposed to be merely a reading of Antigone in the indoor theatre at the Villa, the Getty was eager to present SITI on their big open-air stage. Initially they asked Anne to consider doing a comedy, as they presented only one full production a year, alternating tragedy and comedy. 2011 was to be a comedy year, but Anne strongly felt that Trojan Women was the play she wanted to work with. After much discussion the Getty agreed.
Whereas the text for Antigone began as a libretto for an opera, Jocelyn would be starting from scratch adapting Euripides’ play. Anne gave him two parameters: She asked that “the women” be on stage for the bulk of the production and that the chorus be played by one male actor. To this he added one more large change by creating a scene in which the character of Odysseus appears.
A year before the production was to premiere, the cast gathered at the Getty Villa for a week to workshop the script and present it as a reading, again as part of the Getty Villa Lab series. As with Antigone, guest artists Makela Spielman and Christian Frederickson were included, and this time Jessica Hanna joined the cast to play Helen. Also during this part of the process, Leon Ingulsrud played the Chorus, Will Bond played Talthybius the envoy and Stephen Webber played Poseidon.
The Getty Villa is very serious about the classics, and although they have a deep commitment to embracing the theatre as a way of breathing life into the artifact of the play, there are certain lines they will not cross. An example of this is that Poseidon, during his prologue, took a bite out of the golden apple he was holding. This was preposterous, according to the curators at the Getty: He’s a god. Why would he eat?
Some of these things were easy to adjust, but there were disagreements where the art of the production needed to be strongly asserted. The curators were initially deeply opposed to changing the chorus from a group of women to a Eunuch Priest. So much of their vision of the play had to do with a group of women lamenting their fate. How could a solitary male actor replacing the chorus possibly work? But Anne’s interest in exploring the play as more of a “chamber” piece, without the crying chorus, was not something she was willing to let go of. Even in disagreement, however, the conversations that resulted with these curators, who live and breath this material, proved clarifying.
In the months following the time at the Getty, Jocelyn made adjustments to the text. But the Eunuch Priest remained a Eunuch Priest. There was a reading in the SITI studio in NYC with Kelly Mauer as Helen and Barney O’Hanlon and Leon Ingulsrud assuming the roles they would ultimately play as Chorus and Taltybious, respectively. By the time the cast reconvened at the Getty Villa for the beginning of the rehearsal process, Katherine Crocket of the Martha Graham Dance Company had joined the cast as Helen, and Brent Werzner came aboard as Poseidon. Katherine had been onstage with SITI on American Document, and Brent had performed with the company on a tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Although the company had experimented with the idea before, it was during the making of Trojan Women that the practice of writing daily “diary” entries became an important part of the company’s process. Every day, one member of the company would write about that day’s work in an e-mail that went out to the SITI Company board and the rest of the company.
“Hecuba (Ellen Lauren) personifies the confusion and fear that profound loss has wrought.” —Palisadian Post
“Brims with sophistication and powerful dramatic performances.” —LAist