Cal State Long Beach's Production of Euripides' 'Women of Troy' Is a Single Note of Shrieking Sorrow

Whining Wailing Women
Troy says war is very, very bad

When a country is at war, the one thing you can be sure of is that all the “war plays” will be dusted off, re-examined, reinterpreted and re-envisioned—as if seeing a play about war will finally, after so many centuries, make people realize that war really, really sucks.

It's in this hopeful vein that many universities across the globe have begun staging Euripides' The Trojan Women, a play based on the mythological burning of Troy around 1194 B.C.—written in 415 B.C. as a negative commentary on a “modern” Athenian war that Euripides found distasteful (and not, as some might believe, a vid of USC girls flashing their ta-tas while on Spring Break).

It was popular, it made its point—war is bad—and, over hundreds of years, has fulfilled its original purpose many times over, being dragged out and refurbished to reflect European imperialism, World War II collateral damage and the war in Iraq. As a perpetual and scathing commentary on oppressive governments and a battle cry to save the victims of conflict, it's some heavy-duty drama, and shoving a bevy of amateur actors into such deeply tragic fray seems slightly sadistic.

Such is the case with director Bruce Turk's imagining at Cal State Long Beach's theater department, in which student actors recite lines instead of feel them. In the press release, Turk praises the language of the play—which he feels contains a self-generating power so intrinsic that the actor merely need deliver the lines to feel the surge. We then wonder why Turk apparently instructed his troupe to yell their lines, obscuring all subtlety and jamming them up in an emotional loop that emitted about as much power and heat as the broken stones of Troy they clutched onstage. No, these wailing women of Troy had exactly one note—shrieking sorrow. Nothing else was permitted. And without sparks and snuffs, valleys and peaks, the cast couldn't help but become a zombie-like clan, moaning over the destruction of their homeland, the loss of husbands and sons, of daughters being swept off as concubines and, ultimately, the murder of an infant child.

The actors playing their captors were equally linear—monotone and gruff, a barely audible difference between anger and compassion. It was grueling and disheartening to watch the cast attempt to force meaning and understanding through cries and proclamations. It was also a missed opportunity to at least try to engage an audience and remind them of the cruelty of war, especially considering the bloodbath in which we're currently splashing around. We almost wondered if throwing the women into burkas might have helped add another dimension to the piece, an obvious angle on which to ruminate, but the stage design, lighting and special effects (lots of haze in the air) were pretty exceptional, so we can only wish the director had taken his cast down a notch and tried to breathe life, not just fire, into the production. After all, Turk is right: The language is powerful—if you deliver it effectively. Otherwise, we end up weeping, too, but not for the pitiable Trojan women.

Women of Troy at the Studio Theatre, Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 985-5526; Reopens April 8. Tues.-Thurs., 7 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 N 8 p.m. Through April 12. $12-$15.

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