NEW YORK – Euripides’ anti-war play Daughters of Troy – also titled The Trojan Women – was presented by the American Thymele Theater, within the framework of the New York Euripides Summer Festival.
Written by Euripides in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War, it is a commentary by the playwright on the savagery of war, democratic politics, and the position of women.
The work is considered by many to be a critique of Athens, with the Trojan episode seen as a metaphor for the then-current event of the Athenian fleet occupying the island of Milos and the subsequent massacre of all the male prisoners and the selling into slavery of the women and children.
415 BC was also the year of the outrageous night-time desecration of the statues of Hermes and Athens’ disastrous Sicilian Expedition, events that likely caused the author’s embitterment with the Athenian democracy and which inevitably led to the downfall of the Athenian Empire.
Daughters of Troy depicts the fate of the women of Troy after Greeks conquered their city, killed their husbands, and sent their surviving family members into slavery. However, the show begins with the gods Athena and Poseidon devising plans to punish the Greeks because of the rape of Cassandra – daughter of Hecuba and Priam – by Ajax.
The play, directed by Annabelle Lau, takes place in front of the walls of Troy. Women, as modern prisoners, wear orange uniforms and now live under the totalitarian regime of military conquest. One by one the protagonists of the tragedy narrate their losses and mourn the slavery that awaits them.
Hecuba, Queen of Troy, knows that her future is to become a slave in Odysseus’ home. She is a woman who has seen her sons die and her young daughter, Polyxene, sacrificed on the altar, as a gift to the already dead Achilles.
Cassandra is tormented by her visions and struggles to find relief in the future deaths of Troy’s enemies and in the suffering of Odysseus, which she foretells. The most heart-wrenching moment in the play is when Hector’s widow Andromache – played by actress Lesley Young – is told by the messenger Talthybius that her three-year-old son, the only one left to her, will be murdered, as Greek chieftains deem him a possible future threat. Even Helen’s omnipotent beauty seems, in the beginning at least, helpless to save her from Nestor’s rage and his thirst for revenge.
All women in the Daughters of Troy are obliged to serve, or even mother, the children of the killers of their children and their spouses in Troy. Their lives have no value and they are only pawns in the hands of men. Their once-full lives have been reduced to days full of obligations and devoid of rights.
All the performances were excellent. Notable was Ruba El-Kaddoumi as Athena who, with her glassy eyes, convinced the audience that she is actually accustomed to seeing the world from the heights of Olympus. Also, young actress Deedee Woche was outstanding in the role of Hecuba – a role often cast with more mature actors. Woche, although young, carried on her shoulders the weight of an old woman who has lived through all the atrocities of war and now sees life from the bottom of the well, but is still stubbornly breathing.
Stephen Diacrussi, director of the play Iphigenia Among the Taurians, also presented by New York Euripides Summer Festival this season, talked to TNH about what prompted him to launch American Thymele Theatre and create the Euripides Summer Festival.
“Before launching American Thymele Theatre more than twenty six years ago with a budget of less than a thousand dollars,” he said, it was an opportunity for myself to find my own voice in theater and offer hundreds of career opportunities to fellow actors, directors, music composers, stage managers, etc. By the time ATT was founded, I had already appeared as an actor in three Euripides plays, Hecuba (as Polydorus), while still a student at Performing Arts High School, Cyclops (as Coryphaeus, performed in ancient Greek) while I was a student at Columbia University, and Ion (as Hermes), for Theatre 22, a Greek and Latin classical repertory company. Unlike other playwrights, Euripides always spoke more like a friend to me as an actor and, along with his sense of justice and profound genius, became my favorite playwright. Was I glad I selected Euripides!”
He noted that, “to date, every literary work of his is relevant and timeless, regardless if it is produced three hundred years or three thousand years later. I wanted Euripides to serve as a pivotal agent in continuing to present free Greek theater for all and kicked off the New York Euripides Summer Festival with a play that is not directly attributed to Euripides, namely Rhesus in the summer 2009. What followed was a chronological order of the extant Euripides plays. I pray to St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors and to St. Porphyrios alike, the patron saint of Greek actors (if Greek actors may have a patron saint other than Dionysus) that I will be deemed worthy of producing all of the 19 extant plays of Euripides.”