Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle "The Trojan Women"

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  It always sucks to be the messenger. Just ask Talthybius, herald of the Greeks, who has to deliver all the sad news to the women of Troy. These women are to be auctioned off to the Greek kings, winners of this long skirmish with the Trojans. Sons and lovers dead, these poor souls are brought more misery by a poor shlub who is trying to do his job. Talthybius should be the patron saint of all theatre critics.

The Trojan Women
Fortunately, though, this critic's lot is not quite as bad as the Greek with the hard-to-pronounce name. This St. Edward's University production of The Trojan Women at Mary Moody Northen Theatre has a lot of fine moments. Babs George is outstanding as Hecuba, former queen of Troy. George gives her part strength and spine. She is the rock to which this city has been anchored for so many years and will continue to be so even now, after its destruction. Julie Buchanan as Helen, the women for whom the war was started, and Kelley Schroller as Cassandra, the prophetess daughter of Hecuba who is to be given to King Agamemnon, shine in their parts and appear to understand their roles deeply. The poor messenger is honored by Jason Hays, who imbues his part with humanity and humility. The transformation of this wonderful arena theatre into a burned city was dreamed up by scenic designer Gary van der Wege and his creation fits the mood of the play and functions of the script. The costumes by Sara Medina-Pape and Angela Mirabella fit van der Wege's set and Euripedes' words perfectly. Lighting designer Mark Porter has created poignant moments with a blue wash and some specials that make you want to snap a picture to remember them better. A word of caution, however, for less hardy audience members: This production is performed without an intermission and with a lot of cloying smoke, which adds atmosphere but can become overwhelming.

And overwhelming may be a good way to describe the opening half of this production. Yes, we know the Greeks just sacked Troy. We know things are not good. But when the show starts with such intense chest-beating and wailing, there are not many ways to build from that point, and the monotonous notes make it difficult to care what will happen to these unfortunates. While that behavior may or may not be true to reality, this is a piece of theatre, not a news report, and seems to lack the energy to build to its final devastating moments. All of director Melba Martinez's tricks are laid out at the beginning and few surprises are saved.

All in all, however, it is an interesting tribal take on an old classic that has not been given a postmodern spin, despite words on the program that indicate otherwise. There are worse messages to be forced to deliver than a pronouncement on this production, and I do not envy Talthybius his role.

-- A.M.

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