Greek tragedies are complicated plays to put on for modern audiences. Firstly, they’re pretty grim. I mean, they are tragedies after all. Secondly, they often idiomatically reference and discuss other figures of their time, much to the confusion of the audience who may not know the relationships between off-stage gods and kings.
Let’s begin with the grimness. Euripides’ ’Trojan Women’ is especially bleak. It is essentially a series of scenes featuring women learning of their terrible fates after the sacking of Troy. First, there’s Cassandra (Aimee Rose Ranger), who learns that she is to become the concubine of Agamemnon. But Cassandra, who has the gift of seeing the future, understands that Agamemnon’s wife will kill her when she gets there.
Then there’s Andromache (Ranger again), who, too, is destined for the life of a concubine. Additionally, she’s told that her young son Astyanax (Ben Steinberg) is to be killed.
Only Helen (Ranger yet again) receives any reprieve. Menelaus (Nathaniel Gundy) means to kill her, but she begs for her life and succeeds.
Hecuba (Rosalind Thomas Clark), Cassandra’s mother, is to be taken to Odysseus.
This is what the play consists of. Most of these developments are told through long, poetic monologues, the kind filled with histrionic language and harrowing laments. It’s all very tough to take. There isn’t really an arch to the story; just the vignettes of sad undeserving women being told of their horrible fates.
Perhaps because I’m not very interested in (or knowledgeable about) history, this play struck me as a little confounding. Not only in its usage of the complex world of Greek mythology, but also because of its purpose. Short of people who know a lot about this period of history, who is this play really for? Its anachronistic language, its melodramatic tone, its relentlessly dreary subject matter--this is a play for very few, I would imagine.
The performances here, too, are difficult to comment on in many ways. Some times, the actors seemed to move a little too much into the exaggerated and over-dramatic, but, I ask you, have you ever read Greek tragedy? How one would not fall prey to histrionics is hard to imagine.
Director Ben Everett’s choice to have Aimee Rose Ranger play four central roles (she opens the play as Athena) may have been a mistake, especially to the uninitiated. I could see certain members of the audience not realizing that she was doing this. Ranger, however, does an excellent job in these roles, but her continued presence could easily make a confusing play all the more confusing.
There is a chorus here, too, consisting of Jen O’Connor, Adrienne Paquin and Mara Radulovic. A few times I noticed that they weren’t fully in sync with one another. The overall affect of a chorus can be mesmerizing, but when one is off, the result dwindles.
Whistler in the Dark is known for their demanding and challenging plays, many of which are seldom-produced works. I’m glad such a company exists, as mainstream theater can often get predictable and soft. But, conversely, I wouldn’t want every theater company to be like Whistler. The existence of both types of companies gives the other legitimacy.
Whistler in the Dark’s production of "Trojan Women" completed its run on June 2 at the Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA.