“This is how men are,” repeatedly remark the cast of Hudson Warehouse’s current production of Trojan Women. The play relates a relevant and piercing narrative of war, both between the sexes and on the international scale. This is a strong adaptation of the work of Euripides, reflecting an important theme in a meaningful dramatic manner. Nicholas Martin-Smith’s play is based on the original Euripides text, but he updates it with contemporary motifs. We meet the women of Troy, who have already been wrecked and ravaged by the invasion of the Greeks. Their men have all been slaughtered save one, and they are without recourse to protect themselves from being thrown into slavery or worse. Talthybius, a Greek political figure, has come to inform the women of their fate. They try to share the horrors of what they have experienced while also attempting to fight back against their circumstances.
Despite the classical tale, the piece feels very twenty-first century. Its costumes are predominantly reflective of current styles and the narrative is sprinkled with modern references, from popular music to current events. Although the performance’s strongest moments are those that are deeply connected to the original Greek text, the details that are included which refer to contemporary society keep the piece feeling relevant. This play is not meant as a museum piece or a historical document. It is a clear reflection of this particular moment in time.
The chorus of women, led by Hecuba, is pitted against the Greek men. The players all give powerful renderings of their characters and Ruth Nightengale’s Hecuba is exceptionally heart-wrenching in her performance, particularly in the play’s final moments. All of the actors bring an intense amount of believability to their performances and engage the audience in the narrative arc. The men are rough, even when they are smooth politicians, which brings a complexity to the work. There is great conflict created between the groupings of characters. We can feel the anxiety of these two groups being forced to come face-to-face with one another. The sexes cannot find common ground and neither can the Greeks and Trojans. They are on separate sides and will not find a way to make peace.
The play uses its outdoor setting well. There is the sense of witnessing an ancient Greek tragedy in the manner in which it was originally designed to be presented: in the open-air, lit by the waning hours of daylight. The stone stage space is littered with the detritus left behind after the attack; there is trash everywhere, especially the remnants of devices once used to make contact, such as telephones and a computer. The women (and men) are also marked by the war’s devastations – their bodies are covered in blood and dirt, their clothes are torn, and their general appearance is disheveled. No one has been left untouched by this war.
This production is a work of political theater, but one that operates in a manner that is neither didactic nor heavy-handed. It uses the form of drama to convey a theme about the dangerous consequences of warfare. At its heart, however, this work is about human beings and what they are capable of doing to one another. They can kill one another brutally, but they can also love one another deeply. It is a choice which force wins out over the other.