Sunday, November 15, 2015

Women of Troy—Play On Words—downtown Portland

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone…?”

This Greek tragedy by Euripides is a world premiere and has been adapted for the stage and directed by Jeffrey Puukka.  It is playing at PSU’s Lincoln Hall #55, 1620 SW Park Ave. through November 21st.  For more information, go to their site at www.playonwords.org

This is a great, anti-war story of the futility and the stupidity of War.  One might remember the story of Paris, A Trojan, abducting Helen, a Spartan, married to its king.  “The face that launched a thousand ships…” and so, as revenge, a kingdom was destroyed to get her back.  The Spartans led a night raid on Troy and, in the final result, most the males were killed, and females turned into slaves for them.  Thousands died, a culture was lost and all for the sake of a little dalliance between two, horny, young people.  Could anything be sillier or more stupid?!

How about a country fabricating a story that an opposing country has great, secret weapons that could wipe out a nation, just so they could go in and kill their leader, admittedly, a cruel man.  The fact that they were an oil rich country and their leader had once tried to assassinate this country’s leader’s father, really had no bearing on the war.  You bet.  And so the country, to this day, is in turmoil and thousands have (and are) dying because of this action years ago.  Guess we haven’t learned so much after all, have we?!  Someone once said, if we don’t learn from history, we are cursed to repeat it.  And so we are…

The story, as it goes, has flighty Helen (Shannon Mastel), the Queen of Sparta and married to the paranoid King Menelaus (Neil Wade Freer), being abducted by Paris, a Trojan.  Well, the Spartans have never really like the Trojans anyway, so the King, with his trusty advisor, the wily Odysseus (John Marks) and his older brother and chief General, the ruthless Agamemnon (Rick Zimmer), use this kidnapping as an excuse to wage war on the Trojans.  Joining the fight is a compassionate, one-armed veteran of war (Robert Lee Gaynor) and a sadistic guard (Sean Morgan).

They succeed in killing the King of Troy, Priam, and Paris, but the whereabouts of Helen alludes them.  The proud Hecuba (Elizabeth Ware), Queen and wife to Priam, does her best to protect her family, alive now only because they are all women.  The wily Cassandra (Wynee Hu) is a Seer, who has a direct line to the gods and can see the future by deciphering omens and signs.  She babbles a great deal and appears mad but is valued by the Spartans, especially Agamemnon, because she knows what lies ahead.
Another family member is quiet Andromache (Danielle Pecoff), daughter-in-law of the Queen, and having a child by her son, now dead, Hector.  Other siblings are the anxious Polyxena (Chelsea Turner), willing to do anything just to survive.  Another daughter (Emily Eisele) is defiant and pays the price.  And the youngest, (Nicole Resner), is just a child and still holds on to her stuffed toy as her best pal.  I won’t ruin the tale by telling you anymore but know that some do survive and are able to grieve and will eventually reinvent themselves.

The power of the play lies in some pretty impressive actors, as well as an updating of the language and time frame of the story.  Puukka’s script is very intense throughout and is almost three hours long.  And he has chosen to direct it on an essentially bare stage, allowing the actors much freedom to explore and expand their characters.  Good idea.  I would suggest, though, that some lightness needs to be found in the script, as Hitchcock even pointed out, doing his suspense films, that an audience always needs a little humor/lightness during these intense proceedings, to catch their breath and let their minds relax and re-group for a moment, before the next onslaught of emotions or actions.

The cast is powerful.  Especially impressive were Zimmer, as the General, the consummate egomaniac, caring only for his own glory.  You really hate this guy.  Ware, as the opposing leader, brings a great deal of nobility to the role and is quite the leader herself.  An erudite and strong-willed portrayal.  I was moved by Gaynor as the disabled soldier.  A touching performance of a very conflicted but caring human being.  Marks as the architect/planner is probably the most dangerous character of all, as he can smooth-talk his way into your psyche.  A dangerous politician and well played.  And Hu, as the Seer, skillfully weaves her way in and out of sanity, keeping one always on their toes as to what she will do next.  She’s always in character and you believe her instantly, a born survivor.  Bravo.

And, in that regard, here are some words from her when I asked about the play and her role:

"I have been involved with Women of Troy since August 2014. As an actor, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of a project's development. In terms of creating a character, I enjoy revisiting Cassandra and discovering new things about her each time I step into her shoes. Regarding the ensemble, there is a palpable sense of camaraderie formed by the original cast that continues to grow with the addition of new cast members. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work extensively on a complex, archetypal character, and to meet and learn from my fellow actors over time."

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.