You don't want to wait hours outside the Delacorte for Shakespeare in the Park, but you still want to see a free production of classic theater? This summer, finding an alternative should not present a problem. Joining the ranks of companies like Shakespeare in the Park(-ing Lot) and Gorilla Rep, the Cypreco Theater Group is offering a touring production of Euripides' The Trojan Women. Some of the performances are outdoors, some in. And although Cypreco cannot boast a cast including Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, this is a solid production.
The play is performed period-style, if on a budget. Each character sports a makeshift white toga and a plain white mask. Since catherni (the tall boots of the ancient Greek stage) probably cost a pretty penny, these actors make by with Charlton Heston-esque sandals. As soon as the Cypreco performers enter in these costumes, it becomes obvious that they have rooted their production in history.
The cast enters through the audience in a grandiose display of grief. In their exaggerated frowns and moans, we see the origins of the tragedy mask; in this tragic, anti-war play, comedy definitely takes a back seat. The play begins after the Trojan War: The Argives have won a long battle and have moved on to raping and pillaging. The Trojan women bear the brunt of the Argives' gruesome victory celebration. Even the joined forces of Poseidon (Cary Patrick Martin) and Athena (Tiffany Nave) do not save the doomed city of Troy.
The Trojan Women, one of the first anti-war pieces ever written, plays like a requiem with no relief from sorrow. Also like a requiem, the play is divided into several sections. One focuses on Cassandra being taken as a concubine by the Argive king Agamemnon. The god Apollo then possesses Cassandra and gives her powers to tell the future. Drunk on rage and her newfound power, she vows, "I will slay [Agamemnon] and lay waste his home to avenge my father's and my brethren's death." Then she storms offstage.
Although she never makes a reappearance in this play, the Greek audience knew what became of Cassandra's prophecy. About 40 years earlier, Aeschylus' Agamemnon showed how Agamemnon was murdered--not by Cassandra the concubine but by Clytemnestra, his spurned wife. The Trojan Woman serves, in part, as a prequel to that story and others such as Andromache, which Euripides wrote 10 years before The Trojan Women. As a sort of Cliff's Notes to post-Trojan War Greek myths, The Trojan Women makes an appropriate addition to Cypreco Theater Group's repertoire, as the company wishes "to promote and preserve the Greek culture, heritage and folklore." Here, they do justice to their cause. With the help of Shela Xorega's direction and choreography, the chorus' chants, songs, and movements ring Greek to me.
Greek drama requires actors to emote to the gods; performances must be larger-than-life without being over-the-top. It's a difficult task but, for the most part, this group pulls it off. Actress Stacia French plays Helen of Troy as the conniving seductress Euripides intended her to be. Hecuba, the major victim of The Trojan Women, is the most challenging role, as the character laments onstage for the entire play and can therefore grow tiresome. But Camille Mazurek breathes life into the part, delivering lines like "The waves of misery overpower me" in a torrent.
The production has its flaws. The chorus sometimes repeats gestures, and not all of their movements are fully in synch. Some actors do not reach the heights of emotion, while others overshoot. Still, the classical training of the company shines through in this remarkable performance.