What do the women do while the men are at war?
It is this question, asked in the midst of an all-out musical and visual spectacle, that drives director Tracey Elaine Chessum’s production of The Many Women of Troy. And I mean ‘spectacle’ in every sense of the word. After watching the first fifteen minutes, you may find yourself opening up the program to see if Timothy Leary acted as a consultant at any point in this play’s development. This wasn’t a bad thing; just not what I was expecting at all.
The music is, undoubtedly, the highlight of this performance. The song “So Many Women,” with its multiple reprises throughout the play, functions as a reminder of the play’s central ideas. While the men fight the wars (and often get the poetry/theatre written about their supposed heroic efforts), there are always the women, stuck at home, wondering when they’ll ever get back. If they’ll ever get back. At one point, we hear an eery repetition of the line, “Have you seen him?” which created a kind of lonesome feeling in the audience. We don’t necessarily know who he is, and though this play is, of course, centered around Euripedes’ Troy, it moves around time quickly and abruptly.
Time is an interesting question for The Many Women of Troy. It may be both the play’s greatest ally and enemy. At a shade over two hours, this play was longer than most Fringe performances, and I don’t know if it needed to be. While it would be difficult to omit some of the numbers from this play’s song list, this play had to get to its climax sooner for me to feel appropriately compelled by its ending. Let’s face it, young Astyanax (Sean Silvia) is pretty charming, but when we’re combining the play’s length with the somewhat didactic, “in your face” message displayed on the projector at the end, the audience may feel shortchanged.
The other side of time, though, was that this play moved all over it, and that was a fantastic choice. If you are skeptical about seeing a play that is based in Troy, think again, because this play is just that: based in Troy. It then takes off like a theatrical time machine. I saw Helen of Troy (Ellis Greer) sing a jazzy tune in early 1950’s America, taking cheap shots at Pulitzer as if she were Hearst’s main reporter girl, or something. Don’t worry, she’ll be in Auschwitz a few scenes later, before swinging by a pop rock concert in the gates of Hell.
In that same 1950’s America scene, a lonely Andromache (Tracy Haupt) delivers a stirring performance with “I Miss My Man,” and there were many strong group songs as well, my favorite of which was “Nothing Changes.” Andromache, Hecuba (Charlotte Di Gregorio), and Cassandra (Maggie Donovan) lament about the unchanging nature of their roles in relation to their men as they make sure to look their best. One of this play’s major observations is that women are always trying to look their best (for their men), even without the knowledge that said men will return (from war).
And that is the beauty of this play’s ending. In spite of all the atrocities that have occurred against humanity, and women most specifically, we must press on, and women must continue to put hope into their men. As mentioned, I could have done without the listing of specific data and facts about atrocities committed against women, because I feel like it lessens the lessons the audience should be picking up on themselves. On the other hand, it is a meaningful reminder, and maybe this play isn’t trying to end on a happy note.
Either way, The Many Women of Troy is great theatre, and the venue (Studio Theatre) was perfect for this production. Just get ready to be thrown around time like Marty McFly.
The Women of Troy has 1 more performance, July 19 at 6:30pm at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington, DC.
Related: The Many Women of Troy Web site