The Women of Troy

From 02/24/2005 to 03/20/2005


A company generated adaptation of Euripides’ THE TROJAN WOMEN and HECUBA, featuring an original blues-based score composed by Marya Hart. Set on the eve of the fall of the city of Troy, THE WOMEN OF TROY retells the stories provided in Euripides’ THE TROJAN WOMEN and HECUBA. THE WOMEN OF TROY explores the impact of war on society, especially women and children, and examines how wartime transforms us into that which we most fear.


The reviews are in.

REVIEW: ‘Women of Troy’ a Frank look at war
BY RENEE VALOIS,?Special to the Pioneer Press Performing Arts
Pioneer Press Tuesday March 1,? 2005 .?

Many theaters pick shows to entertain audiences. Others pick shows that force audiences to think; Frank Theatre is one such organization.

At a time when our country is engaged in the deadly aftermath of a “quick” war in Iraq, the theater has chosen to stage an adaptation of two 2,500-year-old plays by Euripides that examine the horrors that erupt in the wake of war.

Director Wendy Knox’s adaptation of “The Trojan Women” and “Hecuba” into “The Women of Troy” is not easy to watch, since it presents one unrelenting catastrophe after another. Yet, it is compelling and moving.

The show orbits around Hecuba, the wife of King Priam of Troy, played with power by Janis Hardy. It opens on the eve of the city’s destruction. Soon, all the men are dead and the women are prisoners of war awaiting their terrible fate. Loss follows loss for Hecuba and the women, who are divided among the conquerors as slaves and shipped far from their beloved Troy, now in ruins.

The show is one long lament ? with a bit of gruesome revenge thrown in near the end ?- that suggests the sequel to war can be worse than the war itself.

Original music and lyrics by Marya Hart have an almost liturgical or gospel feel, and are often keened in harmony by the capable chorus. Some of the lyrics seem a bit trite, but others are affecting

The quality of the soloists’ singing is also uneven, ranging from average to exceptional. On opening night, Knox admitted a couple of principals had been felled by various illnesses, and the solo of Hecuba’s youngest daughter was only mouthed by the actress while another woman actually sang it.

The location of the stage in the 120-year-old “A” Mill was inspired, since the air of decay perfectly matches the show’s theme of ruin. Knox also found a way to use the mechanics of the site ? at one point harnessing a huge metal hook suspended from a track near the ceiling to pull the huge Trojan horse forward.

“The Women of Troy” has the power to make us weep. But it serves a higher purpose when it helps us empathize with the vulnerable who still struggle for dignity and hope in the wake of war.

REVIEW: Blues and the Abstract Truth
All the dirt (and blood and music) on Frank’s Euripides hybrid

City Pages,?March 2, 2005
By Quinton Skinner

To the victor go the spoils, and to the soldier on the other side…well, they’re usually not too concerned about the spoils, having suffered the disadvantage of being killed. As for the women and children left behind by the vanquished, their fate throughout history had been particularly appalling. Euripides tackled their powerless anguish in a pair of dramas, now brought together by Frank Theatre. The result is innovative and intellectually engaging, if at times overwrought and exhausting.

Director Wendy Knox has taken a literary welding torch to The Trojan Women and Hecuba, two works dealing with the aftermath of the Trojan War. When Women of Troy opens, a full decade has passed since Paris made off with the babelicious Helen, and the great city is under siege by the Greeks. The notably treacherous Odysseus then comes up with the Trojan horse idea, and soon the war is over and a metaphor is born. All that’s left for the Greeks is to deal with the women and children.

This show is staged in the same Pillsbury machine shop as last year’s Fucking A, though the stage has been shifted 90 degrees. The building’s industrial infrastructure is put to good use when the giant Trojan horse appears, pulled by a winch attached to a scary-looking overhead track system. John Francis Beuche’s set design organically fills the large space while reveling in its funkiness. His faux concrete pillars evoke exoticism until the eye lands on textures of rusty metal and dirty wood. It’s a great visual tension.

A second distinctive element of this production is Marya Hart’s original piano-based score of songs. Reportedly inspired by a binge of Marian Anderson spirituals, the tunes draw from folk blues and gospel as well as the urbane compositions of Duke Ellington and Kurt Weill. The lyrics are extremely emotional, while at times utilizing a simplified language that reduces painful truths to ironic nuggets. When the women rue being tricked by the beautiful horse, they muse, “He was tall.” While the score at times verges on the monochromatic, it contains numerous high points, such as “Our Fate” (lyric: “It was our fate/Grief and destruction was our fate”), when the sheer heaviness of what we’re being asked to contemplate comes across entirely.

The ensemble cast is led by stage vet Janis Hardy, who ably maneuvers Hecuba through the horrors of enslavement and losing her children, then the gory half-victory that follows. When she’s washing her hands with blood, Hardy is the spirit of cool but unhinged malice. Christiana Clark is funny and a bit scary as Cassandra, and Maesie Speer depicts a touching innocence amid catastrophe, dirt, and bloodshed.

Because that’s what this play is all about: the crushing, ineluctable tragedy that envelops women and children in times of war. Gary Keast gives a nice portrayal of a soldier who regrets the evil things he’s doing, but who sure as hell is going to follow orders. At a time when our own culture has been at least partly numbed to the reality of the suffering of others in faraway places, this work provokes both empathy and profound frustration. Hart’s use of African American musical idioms also serves to evoke the Middle Passage: When the women of Troy prepare to leave their once-happy home for a lifetime in bondage, you can almost feel the echoes rippling through time.

I was asking myself at intermission, though, why I wasn’t able to lose myself and love this piece. I suspect it’s a matter of tone. The show goes from zero to insanely distraught in about ten seconds, and then it stays there. It’s about “waves of grief,” but feels more like a tsunami–an overpowering wall of suffering that never lets up. Knox’s cast is in fine voice, and her hybrid script affords great fuel for the mind. If only this production dialed back the emotion long enough for me to come to it, I might have been able to climb through the breach and break down the barrier between my seat and the stage.

Theater review: Trojan women, stuck in a rut

Graydon Royce,? Star Tribune,?March 1, 2005

Josef Stalin remarked that “a single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” That cheery sentiment came to mind at intermission of Frank Theatre’s production of “The Women of Troy,” an adaptation by artistic director Wendy Knox of several Greek texts depicting the plight of women following Troy’s fall. Despite intermittent spikes of high drama, the script loops back on itself and never builds beyond a certain monotony of sad event on sad event.

It’s a shame Frank can’t stay in the old machine shop of the Pillsbury A Mill in southeast Minneapolis. Knox and her co-conspirators have used the space to produce two pieces that fit the hoary aesthetic. John Bueche has fashioned a set crumbling with ruin and spectacle; the play begins impressively with a large Trojan horse pulled in by a massive overhead crane. Mike Kittel’s lights and a strong soundscape led by Marya Hart and Michael Croswell complete a technical crucible fit for the material. Knox uses a surrounding catwalk so that important pieces of the action peer down from heights of 30 or 40 feet. The scope of this dramatic canvas won’t be easily replicated in another place.

Knox also draws fine performances from her ensemble. Janis Hardy’s voice soars in the lively space, giving Hecuba’s laments a tonal clarity. The chorus digs into Hart’s bluesy score — with its minor-key dirges and spirituals — and comes up with strong harmonies and individual performances. Christiana Clark, Annie Enneking, Gary Briggle and Dana Munson each have standout turns. Clark and Enneking in particular contribute strong, Brechtian moments of stylized energy — big, physically risky cabarets as crazy Cassandra and reviled Helen respectively. Munson’s performance could be shaded with greater menace, but he gives it up in a striking song about the “Bitches of Troy.” Gary Keast drives much of the action as Talthybius, a sympathetic messenger charged with relaying an unremitting string of bad news to Hecuba.

Therein lies the flaw to this project. Knox the director might have had a word with Knox the adapter about a script that starts with promise before lapsing in a monotone. In some cases, the dialogue simply rewinds itself to restate how woeful the conquest has been, how the Trojans have suffered, how a life of slavery awaits these women.

In the specific case of Hecuba, she hears that a daughter has flipped out, that a grandson will be thrown from the walls of the conquered city, another daughter will be sacrificed and her son has been killed. Taken in sum, this is a horrible day at the office. However, in the dramatic milieu, Knox and Hardy haven’t been able to find an arc. In fact, there is no story, just a series of events. Eventually, Hecuba snaps and takes action against the king who has killed her son, but rather than the climax, this feels more like the final degradation.

Knox should have sought a leaner path to the denouement. Even deep into the second act, the chorus returns to ground covered early on. Another flaw is the nature of the story. It’s quite literal, without any of the psychological delicacy of, say, “Oedipus,” nor the poignant sacrificial center of “Iphigenia.”

“Troy” runs almost 2 1/2 hours and feels it. For all the ambition of this project, it falls on that inadequacy.

REVIEW: A brave Women of Troy disappoints at Frank Theater, Elizabeth Weir,

Rather like its chief protagonist Hecuba, Frank Theatre’s operatic adaptation of Euripides’ The Women of Troy promises well, but turns out to have that thorn of Greek tragedy, a fatal flaw.

Women looks at the dire aftermath of war and its effect on the unfortunate women who survive.

On John Frances Bueche’s evocative set, built around the industrial gantry and catwalks of the old machine shop of the Pillsbury A mill, artistic director Wendy Knox opens Women in darkness. Gossiping women’s voices tell of the Greeks’ 10-year siege of Troy, all because Helen left her husband Menelaus to abscond with Paris, a prince of Troy. Slowly, the lights come up, and each woman comes forward, takes a red apple from the previous speaker, like a microphone, and has her say. The story intensifies, until the final speaker bites into the apple, evoking Eve and the Fall. It’s a great premonition and a great start.

The gantry whirs into action and drags a handsome gilded wooden horse into Troy’s temple of Athene, a peace offering to the goddess, the women believe. The horse opens, soldiers leap out and rape and spear the women who are clustered around Hecuba, Queen of Troy, wife to slain Trojan king Priam.

Not only are most of Hecuba’s daughters and sons dead, but ignominy and more unbearable losses lie ahead for the queen. The Greeks have picked and chosen among the women and cast lotteries for the less appealing. They herd the women aboard ship to be concubines and slaves in Greece. And, of course, the gods meddle.

The singing is strong, and Marya Hart’s blues and spiritual-infused music that she plays just off-stage speaks of grief. Janis Hardy plays and sings Hecuba, her carriage noble, her voice rich and warm. One by one, her daughters, prophesizing but crazed Cassandra (Christiana Clark) and Polyxena (Maesie Spear), are ripped from her, one to Agamemnon’s bed, the other, a sacrifice to the capricious gods of the winds. Her daughter-in-law Andromache (Corissa White) has her small son taken from her to be hurled from the walls of Troy.

Gary Briggle, with his commanding voice, plays Menelaus and Odysseus, and, when he keens the death song of Polydorus in total darkness from the catwalks, it’s a haunting moment.

The 15-person ensemble has depth, and Hart’s aching spiritual “Fate” is powerful. But while its many songs are sung, Knox cannot escape the static nature of the work, and it fails to engage emotionally at a cathartic level. Which brings me to this production’s fatal flaw.

In Knox’s adaptation, the language is quotidian and clich?d: “We’ve gotten off to a bad start,” “… the husband you dumped,” “You want to keep me in the dark,” “What’s the problem?” The overwhelming burden of tragedy requires higher language to bear its weight and engage the spirit. Agamemnon (Gary Keast) strides into a scene in which Hecuba has just gouged out duplicitous Polymestor’s (Dana Munson) eyes; the man moans and bleeds, his sons lay slain in Hecuba’s tent, and Agamemnon says words to the effect, “There seems to be resentment here.” The gross understatement and its ordinariness invited quiet chuckles on opening night, and the real tragedy of Hecuba, having succumbed to the same lust for revenge that caused the abhorrent war, gets lost.

Katherine B. Kohl’s eccentric costuming works for the ragged women, but for Odysseus, in a be-medaled coat with epaulettes and a WWII, German tin helmet, it smacks of vaudeville, a dangerous tone to introduce, even if the intent is to mock the man’s egotistical need for status.

Mike Kittel bathes the set in mood-shifting light, the sound effects are effective, and Knox uses the challenging space of the A Mill to good advantage, but at two-and-a-half hours, Women feels long.

Women of Troy February 24 – March 20, 2005. Thursdays – Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Sundays 2:00 p.m. Sunday March 13, 3:00 p.m. Tickets $18-20. Frank Theatre, Pillsbury A Mill, 300, Se. 2nd Street, Minneapolis. Call 612-724-3760.

PREVIEW: Janis Hardy sheds her diva wings in ‘Women of Troy’

Graydon Royce,? Star Tribune,?February 25, 2005

Unbelievable. Is that really her — rolling on the dirty concrete floor of this dimly lit machine shop? Nearing 60, she suffers the bumps and bruises of stage fighting as dust and grime soil her pretty purple blouse. Some young tough is pushing her around, and she’s taking it like a 20-year-old newcomer eager to please the theater gods. Man, oh man. This is like a Fifth Avenue socialite panhandling in Times Square. Janis Hardy is getting down and dirty in a creaky, makeshift theater, bearing the brunt of Frank Theatre’s latest concoction, “Women of Troy.”

Say it ain’t so, Janis. This is a woman who has sung at Aaron Copland’s piano; who has stopped shows with the Minnesota Orchestra and Prairie Home Companion; toured with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra; established herself with the Plymouth Music Series and created 20 roles in 12 years with the Minnesota Opera. This is Janis Hardy, who twice has been recognized as the finest classical voice in Minnesota, a distinguished vocal teacher at St. Olaf College, a soloist with Plymouth Congregational Church for 32 years, a woman who has worked with Argento, Balk, Warland, Brunelle, Skrowaczewski and Marriner.

We had no idea things had gotten so bad, Janis. How can you tolerate stumbling around in this small-theater enterprise inside an abandoned mill in southeast Minneapolis?

“I love it,” she said during a break in rehearsal. “This is like coming home to me. It’s how I started out.”

If she were someone other than a kind, wholesome girl from Roseau, Minn. — authentic, without a trace of guile in her eyes or voice — those words might clang like the empty gong of so much public relations. But even a brief encounter with Hardy convinces a skeptic that here is someone of such accomplishment that she no longer requires the trappings of pomp and circumstance. She is free to do as she pleases. And this pleases her.

“I’ve never done a role like this in my life,” she said of Hecuba, the Trojan queen carted away as chattel with her daughters and sisters by the Greeks following the fall of Troy. “I want to do projects that mean something personally, and the antiwar feel to this project is important to me. But I want to work with people that I love and respect. I knew Wendy would help me because this is such a big role and it just scares me, frankly. I trust her.”

Wendy, surname Knox, is Frank’s artistic director and the creator of ambitious, difficult theater projects such as this adaptation of Euripides’ “Trojan Women” and “Hecuba.” The Greeks have enjoyed a local renaissance this winter, popping up in Ten Thousand Thing’s production of “Iphigenia” and at the Guthrie in “Oedipus” and “Pericles.” Constantly wrestling with fate, the gods’ caprice, justice, mercy and truth, the Greeks touched psychological strains that remain relevant more than two millenia down the road.

Knox and her Frank conspirators were reading through a few of these classic works last spring and fashioning an amalgam. As Knox put it at a recent rehearsal, “We’re putting seven plays into one.” In addition, she has brought in composer Marya Hart to fashion bluesy, spiritual music to buttress the atmosphere of sadness and loss inherent in war’s denouement. That musical component, not operatic but significant, opened the door for Hardy’s participation.

Hardy had done Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” with Frank in 1999 and talked with Knox about the “Troy” project last summer. The singer visited the old Pillsbury mill (where, incidentally, her husband worked for 25 years) to watch Frank’s production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ “F—ing A” last fall and fell in love with the edgy, grassroots aura to the place, once the largest flour mill in the world. It reminded her of the nascent days of the Minnesota Opera.

“The Opera offices used to be in a used-car lot, and we rehearsed in church basements,” she said. “I was taught that opera was equal parts theater and music and an actor did whatever it took.”

That ethic was the gospel according to H. Wesley Balk, the legendary innovator who insisted on an operatic style beyond the “Park and Bark” approach. Balk was an early mentor when Hardy came to the Twin Cities in the mid-1960s and helped form Center Opera, which later became Minnesota Opera. She had grown up in Roseau, daughter of a renowned vocal teacher, Gladys Rice, and followed her mother’s footsteps to St. Olaf. But at 19, she married her sweetheart, Albert Hardy, and they came to Minneapolis.

Hardy has performed with opera companies in Houston, San Francisco, Boston and Kansas City. She has recorded with Bobby McFerrin, Garrison Keillor and Copland. Theatre de la Jeune Lune and Theatre Latt? Da have used her for their forays into prodigious musical productions, and she formed “Sopranorama” with Molly Sue McDonald and Maria Jette. In addition to Balk, she counts Vern Sutton as a mentor — “the consummate singer/actor” she calls him.

Not for the money

It is in the full appreciation of this r?sum? that it starts to make sense that Hardy is rubbing elbows with the cold, unforgiving floor of the A mill. It takes courage to stretch one’s artistic muscles in this way, a willingness deep in middle age to step out of the comfort zone and confront an untidy character, a radicalized spirit that defies easy reduction.

Hecuba lost her husband, Priam, in the Greek conquest and watched nearly 50 sons perish. One daughter, Cassandra, is mad, and her daughter-in-law, Helen, is reviled in the war’s aftermath as the cause of it all. “A self-indulgent bitch,” Hardy said.

Ultimately, Hecuba becomes what she despises. Pushed over the emotional edge by the carnage at her feet, she takes up the spear herself and murders children. That psychological transformation lies at the heart of the role.

“I have four children of my own,” Hardy said, “and the terror of losing a child, what that does to us, how that dehumanizes us, that is the key.”

That, and finding a way into Hecuba’s mind and spirit without collapsing from the weight.

“I think she’s terrified,” Knox said. “After our first read-through she went home and woke up at 3 in the morning in a cold sweat and said ‘I can’t do this project.’ ”

Obviously she didn’t give up, trusting Knox (“That’s her mistake,” laughed the director) and comforted somewhat by the presence of such old chums as Gary Briggle, who was with her in the early days of the Minnesota Opera and plays several roles. including Menelaus and Odysseus, in this production.

“Having people like her and Gary and Marya involved in a Frank show is terrific,” said Knox. “They’re smart and incredibly generous.”

Yes, indeed. To the point of getting down on hands and knees and groveling in the dust. Whatever it takes.