The Trojan Women

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Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

We always trot out the Greeks when we are feeling righteous. The French played Antigone at the Nazis; the Iraq War has shaken loose a landslide of Lysistratas, Hecubas and Persianses. It’s a dangerous strategy, and one that can result in bad politics and even worse theater. But the Classical Theater of Harlem’s updated production of The Trojan Women refuses the moral high ground. From the chilling opening monologue, in which a chorus member threatens the audience (“I know where you live”), director Alfred Preisser gives us the straight dope on suffering. He knows better than to rely on our nobler natures. He just tells us we’ll be next.

The Trojans have lost the war, and now their women are forfeited to the Greeks. From behind a chain-link fence, the brutalized widows lament and curse. Women penned up in Darfur (or Congo or Eritrea) shout these same words, recounting these same rapes and machete mutilations. Preisser’s brutal, whippet-fast rewrite slashes and burns (the gods are gone, characters meet different fates), but his changes only amplify Euripides’ sense of devastation.

Despite a cheap-looking mise-en-scène, the ensemble is an embarrassment of riches—Lizan Mitchell’s Hecuba and Zainab Jah’s Helen are particularly fine. But it’s the bureaucrat Talthybius (a spectacular Michael Early), ticking off atrocities on his clipboard, who beats home the damning nature of the tragedy. In this river of moral atrophy, we may not have a paddle. But at least we have the Greeks.—Helen Shaw

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