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Beate Hein Bennett

“Ruin, everywhere ruin…”

The Trojan Women
By Euripides, Verse Translation by Gilbert Murray
Adaptation by Sarah B. Denison
April 28 – May 15, 2022
Presented by Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. bet. 9th& 10th Str., New York, NY
Produced by AMERINDA (American Indian Artists Inc.)
Thurs. – Sat. 8 PM, Sun. 3 PM. Proof of vaccination and face masks required.
Gen. Adm. $18, Students and seniors $15
Tickets: 212-254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett May 5, 2022

Johnette Janney, April Hayden. Photo by Marlene Flores.

No one in the dramatic history of the Western world has driven home the horror of genocidal war and absolute destruction more than Euripides in “The Trojan Women” (415 B.C.) after Athenian forces sacked the island of Melos and forcibly deported the women and children into slavery. It was during the height of the Peloponnesian Wars which raged for sixteen years (431-404 B.C) caused by the imperial rivalry between Sparta and Athens. Euripides (480-406 B.C) was perhaps the most outspoken critic of war and its tragic effects on women and children; he was also the most “modern” and radical voice.

Our millennium, like most centuries, began in violence and continues to beget unspeakable horror. As men seem determined to kill for no other purpose than to exert autocratic power, the women and children become expendable pawns and victims, mostly nameless but no longer faceless. What Euripides described in his plays is now provided by journalists and photographers for public TV “consumption”-- the faces of horror: old women, young women, children from Irak, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Yemen, Congo, Honduras… and now, as I write this review, the images from Ukraine relentlessly pound our consciousness.

Amada Arroyo, April Hayden. Photo by Marlene Flores.

But what about the history across the American continent of using women and children as commodities for servitude? As “property”? As commercialized or trafficked sex objects? And finally what about the history of female Black and Brown slavery in white male dominated colonial societies? This includes the fate of Indigenous women and children resulting from wars and official actions against Native tribes in the history of all the Americas.

AMERINDA tackles this last question with their production of “The Trojan Women.” In the intimate TNC downstairs Cabaret, the painful dirge of Queen Hecuba and the women of Troy about their loss of family, home and status, and their impending exile and enslavement passes in a span of ninety minutes without pause. Sarah B. Denison, a member of the Spokane Tribe, substitutes in her adaptation various indigenous names for all the Trojan characters, but not for Helen and Menelaus, the Greek “troublemakers.” While Troy becomes Sp’q’n’I (Spokane?), she leaves the rhyming verse translation of Gilbert Murray largely intact, including expressions like “thou“, and she retains the Greek place references, such as “Aegean”, “Argos”, “the Nereid maidens” and “the Argive spears” in the Prologue, spoken by Poseidon/Great Spirit. However, where Euripides’s chorus narrates the glorious origin myth of Troy, she substitutes a Coyote origin myth told in simple prose by the three chorus women. The mash-up of Murray’s intact somewhat antiquarian verse translation with inconsistent tribal name substitutions obscures the intent and does not suffice for such an important cultural transposition.

Amada Arroyo, Lee Taylor, April Hayden. Photo by Marlene Flores.

Ms. Denison has directed a young cast and crew of mainly indigenous actors and artists of various tribal backgrounds. With an energetic commitment they drive the narrative of horrors. Johnette Janney portrays Hecuba/Hi-ita with relentless primal fury against the silence of the gods. Anna-Lisa Hardin as Cassandra/Wha-la-whit dashes about the stage with crazed eyes and madly curved fingers, pivoting in her wild monologue from horrific prophecies about the conquerors’ fate to fantasies about killing her slave-master-lover Agamemnon. Ria Nez as Andromache/Holi-a-Kin, the widow of Hector/Slough-Keetcha, is a contrast study in quiet fury and motherly pain with her baby-son Astyanax bundled against her breast in a serape. The chorus of three women, played by Amado Arroyo, April Hayden, and Lee Taylor complete the mournful group. Jolie Cloutier plays Helen as a haughty, seductive wily woman ensnaring her equally haughty husband Menelaus, played by Matt Langer. The Messenger Talthybius vacillates between sympathy for the women and impatience to complete his job of delivering the women to their enslavement and baby Astyanax to his execution; Matt Cross plays him with the prideful stance of a Kiowa warrior. He is accompanied by his silent hench(wo)men, Sybelle Silverphoenix and Taniuska Lopez.

Costume Designer Mary Symczak dressed the women in simple earth tone frocks with woven belts; the men are in red shirts and black pants, intimating fascist uniforms. Set Designer Kanako Nagayama with Art Design by David Martine endows the space on one side with an Eagle Totem Pole set on a Greek column and a painting of a Brave with his woman riding alongside; center upstage hangs a painting of three teepees; an actual teepee for entrances, some broken Greek columns, two tree trunks, and the sandy-colored ground suggesting the shore complete the set. Lighting Design by Marsh Shugart creates a warm ambience, except for one scene of a silhouetted dream-like combat between two combatants. Hannah Louise Barnard choreographed all ritualized movements.

Ria Nez, Johnette Janney, April Hayden. Photo by Marlene Flores.

Diane Fraher, Osage/Cherookee, and Founder/Director of AMERINDA, observes in her program essay about the parallel between Native story-telling traditions and the ancient Greek theater’s ritualistic narrative dramaturgy. As the production process got underway, the Russian war on Ukraine broke out. She noted, “a Native elder told me he saw a televised image of a small group of unarmed people huddled in a city center praying and hoping for deliverance. He said he thought about how our people felt when they were brutally attacked and colonized. Once again women and children are bearing the brunt of masculine aggression. Someone is attempting to force people to give up their land and identity. If women have always had to bear the brunt of war, then they have also learned how to survive… Just as the strength and endurance of a living Native matriarchy does today, so too another matriarchy far away will do so in days to come.”


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