Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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My City Was Gone

September 10, 2011

 
The SITI Company cast of The Trojan Women (After Euripides)

For a few brief moments in September each year the Getty Villa in Malibu comes to life with live theater. Due to the the wonts of the inhabitants of the tony surrounding neighborhood, these adaptations of classical dramas, performed in the amphitheater, are fleeting as if they were only on loan to the Getty, not unlike contested antiquities that were once the museum's but now come and go to their countries of origin. The Getty's productions involve a variety of visiting artists and this year they welcomed Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki's SITI Company and a new adaptation of Euripides' The Trojan Women. Actually to get technical about it, the SITI adaptation is entitled The Trojan Women (After Euripides) in what the program notes indicate is a gesture to recognize that the company has done some significant excavation on the play in order to recognize the many historical overtones audiences may see in the work thousands of years later on.

The nature and extent of these revisions, however, conducted under the guidance of director Bogart and playwright Jocelyn Clarke, may not be quite as radical as the above statement might suggest. Characters have been deleted and others added. A newly written Odysseus appears at the end to interact with Hecuba, and Athena is nowhere to be found in the introduction. The women's chorus is replaced by a male eunuch priest character and there is greater emphasis on the idea of the Greeks committing a cultural genocide in the conclusion of this lengthy war. The costumes are classically inspired but contemporary with Helen dripping in jewels and the men all in business suits. And yet, the language and minimal sets outside the surroundings of the Getty Villa gives the play a distinctly unadorned feel. The changes are incorporated so well that there is little sense that this adaptation has strayed far from what audiences might be otherwise familiar with.

Even with significant changes, the story remains largely uneventful. Four Trojan royal women - Hecuba, Kassandra, Andromache, and Helen (who is not really a Trojan at all) lament the loss of their city and people and await being taken to their new separate fates in distant Greek lands. Not unlike a Wagner act, the action mostly occurs before and after the 100 minutes depicted in the play so much of the drama is in the storytelling. Despite this I was riveted throughout, even without lush Romantic German music. The performances were gut-wrenching. Akiko Aizawa's Kassandra was mad and perfectly tragic while Makela Spielman highlights Andromache's pain and nobility. But the actor at the center of the proceedings is Ellen Lauren as Hecuba. Lauren rages with white-hot anger and heartbreak but manages to keep things from boiling over into parody. The male characters are more ancillary here, but J. Ed Araiza makes it clear that Menelaus will buckle under his reunited wife's seduction. Brent Werzner's Poseidon haunts the stage for nearly the whole show following his opening monologue in his identification with his beloved lost Trojans.

The influence of Asian theater traditions is evident in Bogart's calm, meditative movements that seem restrained even in moments of great activity. Actors are specifically posed in ways that look self-conscious to contemporary audiences. But this is a perfect setting for such tactics, heightening the cultural distinctions of the Trojans from the Greeks and giving everything a more majestic feel. Of course, if you don't already have tickets for the show before it closes at the end of September, you are probably out of luck in that, as usual, they are long gone by now. But the SITI group has managed to add another satisfying reputable production to the Getty's theatrical track record to date.

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Kodály Háry János Suite
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Reneé Fleming and Susan Graham
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