Playing like variations on the theme of the ancient Greek play The Trojan Woman, Brave Spirits’ The Trojan Women Project faces head-on a number of issues ripped from the headlines and lifelines of today. Instead of the aftermath from the ancient war over Troy, the new battle in question is identified as the War on Women in America. This is the new Trojan war which the Alexandria-based company has taken as the basis for their visceral, new devised work.
The Trojan Women Project fits right into the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival where 24 area theatres, large and small, present a huge range of plays being written by women. Director Rachel Hynes and her game ensemble have created an engaging exploration that fully utilizes the devised theatre model – a collage of sights and sounds, movement and words that illuminate the experience and psyche of women from the classical era to now.
Elements from Greek theatre blend with modern stagecraft seamlessly. When the audience enters the space, bodies are spread throughout the playing and seating areas. The entire intimate Lab space at Convergence is used by the female ensemble; dialogue surrounds the audience, and key moments shift the physical perspective all around to fully immerse the viewer. Like an homage to the time Thespis stepped out from the Greek chorus to speak on his own, members of this strong ensemble take their own moments to create a narrative of women from all over the spectrum in the time leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The election pitting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump becomes the touchstone for the characters herein. Some are filled with hope that Hillary will be victorious, while others rail against what is happening to the country and inevitably cast their vote for Trump. The debates echo the real talk and social media circus that swirled around this recent and contentious election.
The charged political atmosphere is folded into the big picture of famous women from throughout history and pivotal moments of the past: the crowning of Elizabeth I, the witch trials, women’s suffrage, Amelia Earhart, and movie bombshell Marilyn Monroe. These highlights and famous women emerge from a diaphanous, sheer cloth – or was it a birth canal? It was a fascinating bit of staging nonetheless.
The true power of the work by Hynes and her ensemble are the personal stories interwoven throughout the performance, all connected to a fictional DC area neighborhood people with women of all types. We meet teacher and amateur gardener Betty (Lisa Hill Corley in a lovely, grounded performance) who has seen many changes in her neighborhood through the years. Betty is the modern doppleganger of the Trojan earth mother Hecuba as the story unfolds, a fitting nod to Euripedes’s Greek tragedy.
Allison Turkel plays Alexis, a vocal lesbian who is hopeful of Clinton’s victory and what it means for women everywhere. Representing an aging hippie who leans towards Trump, Nancy Linden as Lolly brings a salty grace to the stage.
Younger characters, such as Jenny (Suzy Alden) and Willow (Ruthie Rado) show the struggles of millennials who want to be taken seriously and who face the tragedy of sexual assault. Their experiences are contrasted with two women of color, Reagan and Nefertiti, played with conviction and fierce authenticity by Renea S. Brown and Nicole Ruthmarie. Brown’s Reagan is a pageant winner who some view as a sell-out, while Nefertiti works several jobs to put herself through school and must correct everyone who still uses her given name Cassandra, in a nod to the prophetess from in the original play. Nefertiti/Cassandra’s role becomes a flashpoint as the first half of the play comes to a stunning conclusion.
The Trojan Women Project
closes February 25, 2018
Details and tickets
Working mothers, immigrant entrepreneurs, and transgendered individuals are all represented and have their say, handled by other members of the ensemble – Karen Lange, Claire Schoonover, Francesca Marie Chilcote, Diana Gonzalez Ramierez, Claudia Rosales Waters, and Ezra Tozian.
Leaning toward the side of caution and in the spirit of full disclosure, the production includes a trigger warning in the program: sexual assault, emotional abuse, and police brutality are talked about, if not fully depicted, during the performance.
My overall impression of The Trojan Women Project: it wis a convergence of brutality and beauty, primal and prime. The plight of women is filled with high accomplishments and unprecedented low points, mostly at the hands of men who have worked to keep women down, subjugated, and under the thumb of imposed gender roles. But now, in the era of pussy hats and resistance marches, there are women who are willing to find their own song, and sing together as new women of Troy at the conclusion of The Trojan Women Project. These strong and proud women raise their voices to “sail on to a new shore” in a fierce, new anthem.
The Brave Spirits Theatre production is presented in repertory with Shakespeare’s male-dominated, Rome-based tragedy Coriolanus.
The Trojan Women Project . Directed by Rachel Hynes . Devised by Hynes and the Ensemble . CAST: Suzy Alden, Renea S. Brown, Francesca Marie Chilcote, Lisa Hill-Corley, Karen Lange, Nancy Linden, Ruthie Rado, Diana Gonzalez Ramirez, Nicole Ruthmarie, Clair Schoonover, Ezra Tozian, Allison Turkel, Claudia Rosales Waters . Dramaturg: Laura Esti Miller . Fight Director: Casey Kaleba . Costume Designer: Kristina Martin . Set and props designer: Brian Gillick . Lighting design: Peter Caress . Music director: Karen Lange . Assistant director: Amber Smithers . Stage Manager: Lynley Peoples . Produced by Brave Spirits Theatre . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.