Spoils of War: Victor and Vanquished in The Trojan Women

 

Melody Gray, foreground, rehearses the role of Hecuba for The New School for Drama's production of The Trojan Women.

The wise will fly from war.,

This statement, uttered by the clairvoyant Cassandra to the victorious Greeks as well as the vanquished Trojans, is at the core of The New School for Drama’s upcoming production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. Set in postbellum Troy, the classical masterpiece asks what war’s end means to the conquerors and the conquered. In the latter group, even noblewomen like Cassandra find themselves at the mercy of the Greek forces.

Cassandra foresees how the military victory that the Greeks have achieved will bring suffering not only to Troy but to the Greek states as well. She sees bloodshed, broken families, unrest,, says director Stephen Fried, a New School for Drama faculty member. And all the things that Cassandra predicts are what we’re seeing in the United States as the fallout of our two recent wars.,

According to Fried, the play’s focus on an oppressed foreign population has spoken to people across the generations. One of them was Jean-Paul Sartre, whose 1965 adaptation of The Trojan Women (translated by Ronald Duncan) is being used in the New School production.

Sartre wrote his adaptation as a very direct response to what he was witnessing with the French war in Algeria,, says Fried, who chose Sartre’s rendering of the play because its clear, modern diction. The way the characters speak, you can tell that Sartre was looking at the plight of a conquered people. While Sartre’s interpretation is loyal to Euripides, it feels as if it could have been written about Iraq and Afghanistan.,

The Trojan Women certainly has modern-day resonance, but the production of any classical play poses special challenges. Modes of choreography, mask work, and music that were part of the ancient theatrical tradition are lost to history. To imbue the play with emotional power, today’s performers must rely on contemporary acting techniques, and on research. To that end, the actors in The Trojan Women started on a personal level, and shared with each other their own stories of how war had affected their own lives, or the lives of people close to them.

In addition, students looked to history. Acting student Melody Gray’s portrayal of the Trojan queen Hecuba was informed by interactions with the past, both ancient and recent: I read everything I could, online, about Hecuba. I was amazed how many literary sources refer to her: Homer, Virgil and Shakespeare all wrote about her,, says Gray, whose wide-ranging sources also included Homer’s Illiad and The Iron Lady. But the most important part of my research entailed visiting the 911 Memorial. This created the feeling of absolute devastation that I needed in order to really bring Hecuba to life.,

In connection with this research, the actors have decided that each performance of the show will include an effort to raise funds for Women for Women International, an organization that assists women survivors of war. A cast member will give a brief speech at the end of the curtain call each night, and audience members will have the opportunity to make donations in the lobby following the performance.

“Once two women from our cast posited the idea to fundraise with the show, every member of the cast ate it up,, says acting student Travis Clark Morris, who plays Greek herald Talthybios. The organization is focused on giving back agency and responsibility to women who have been ravaged by war. [, ] After seeing this play I believe those who are moved to exact change will have a satisfying opportunity to focus their support, or to simply expand their awareness of how they can offer support in the future.”

The New School for Drama’s production of The Trojan Women runs from Thursday, February 23, through Saturday, February 25, at the New School for Drama Theater, 151 Bank Street, 3rd floor. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 8:00 p.m., and there is a Saturday matinee at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are free and can be reserved at Ticket Central’s website or by phone at 212.279.4200.