The SITI Company's Questions
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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.
Trojan Women, written by Euripedes some 2,400 years ago, is one of the most brutal, unrelenting, and moving anti-war plays ever created. The play takes place among the wreckage of Troy after a decade-long siege by the Greeks. The quartet of women of the title are what's left of Trojan aristocracy: Hecuba - queen of Troy, her daughter Kassandra, her son's widow - Andromache, and Helen of Troy (who's not really a Trojan and apparently had a face that could get men moving and might have started this whole mess).
The women are waiting to be taken by their Greek victors as slaves and concubines. It's in this in-between, liminal state that the story telling of the play takes place; caught, for a moment, between the horror of the past and a fear of the future. It's not the story of the war nor of the odyssey to come, but a moment to confront the savagery and personal destruction of war. Listen to Qeen Hecuba's tragically heroic lines:
For ten long years in vain
We made offerings to the gods.
Their divine reward is to smother us
Beneath the dark earth of Troy.
But if they did not bury us
With so much suffering and death
Then we would be unknown.
No one would remember us
No one would sing of us
to the living in times to come.
It's fitting that Euripedes' voice, as adapted by Anne Bogart's SITI Company and playwright Jocelyn Clarke, is echoing through the Getty Villa's outdoor amphitheater as our country grapples with the reverberations of our own tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Now this Trojan Women belongs as much to SITI Company as it does to Euripedes. There are changes to the original script: a male eunuch takes the place of Euripedes chorus of women; Odysseus, who's only spoken of in the original, confronts Hecuba. But more than the changes in the text it's how the story is told that brands it a SITI Company show and to appreciate the how, it's helpful to know where the company begins: with questions.
Full disclosure, I've known director Anne Bogart and the company for over a decade and count them among my dear friends and colleagues.
So rather than explain what the company is doing, let me instead offer up some of the questions that their work is asking:
What if the "story" wasn't simply conveyed by words? What if the bodies of performers, the images, the movement were as significant as the text?
What if all the elements of the theater - text, actors, lights, sound - weren't always in agreement? What if theater were made up of many complex layers? What if what you heard and what you saw were different?
What if going to the theater was as much about asking questions as being given a simple answer?
I never miss an opportunity to see SITI Company ask these questions and you shouldn't either.
Trojan Women plays at the Getty Villa in Malibu through October 1.
For info on the show text the word "curtain" to 69866 and to share your answers, and even better your questions, join the conversation at KCRW.com/theatre.
This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theatre for KCRW.
Running Time: 100 minutes
Banner image: Left to right, Akiko Aizawa (Kassandra), Ellen Lauren (Hecuba), Makela Spielman (Andromache) in the SITI Company's production of Trojan Women (after Euripides); Photo by Craig Schwartz, © 2011 J. Paul Getty Trust