In ‘The Trojan Women,’ Sweet Briar Theatre echoes themes of war still relevant today
Sweet Briar Theatre and the Performing Arts Division will present “The Trojan Women” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13-15, and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 16, in Murchison Lane Auditorium at the Babcock Fine Arts Center.
Sweet Briar theater program director Bill Kershner directs the Greek tragedy, which was written by Euripides in the fifth century B.C. at a time when Greece was again at war. Set immediately after the fall of Troy centuries earlier, the play is a timeless commentary depicting one consequence of human conflict — the toll on the women of the vanquished side. It was images of destruction in the Syrian city of Aleppo today that moved Kershner to select the play.
The stage will be set with scenes of rubble taken from contemporary news photos, and the crew plans an explosion or two to deepen the sense of destruction and fear.
“It’s important to remember that the Greek war against Troy was a glorious victory — like World War Two for us. They were proud of it,” Kershner explains. “Euripides is writing about what happens to the losers, reminding us that it’s not so glorious.”
The action takes place as Troy’s now enslaved women and children are about to be herded onto ships and taken from their homes. Their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers are dead, and the women now belong to those who murdered their families.
Kershner is working from Ellen McLaughlin’s adaptation, written in response to the Bosnian War. Using the imagery of war in 2016, along with costuming, he is drawing parallels to the plight of all refugees today. The 11-member chorus will represent many nations where women and children flee strife, poverty and oppression.
“We’re trying to give the sense that these things are still happening and that we’re kind of desensitized to it in a way that Euripides was not,” Kershner says.
Senior Amber Boyer plays the lead role of Queen Hecuba. A candidate for the B.F.A. with a major in theater and minor in English and creative writing, she says the refugee metaphor makes a powerful statement.
“You truly get the opportunity to get in the head of those affected by wars,” she says.
Boyer says she has auditioned and acted in every main-stage production during her time at Sweet Briar. She’s played her share of angry roles, but Hecuba goes deeper.
“She’s feeling the weight of sending her people into slavery while facing that fate as well. She has to deal with the loss of her children and her city,” Boyer says.
“There’s a confrontation with the cause of the war — a woman. All these emotions and facts are always in Hecuba’s mind. … She’s strong, she’s scared, she’s furious, she’s depressed, she’s loyal, and above all, she loves her city and everyone who resides there.”
Another theater major and four-year Sweet Briar stage veteran, Emelie Wurster ’17, plays Andromache, whose son Astyanax is condemned to die so he cannot grow up to avenge his father, Hector. Seven-year-old Sam Williams is cast to play Astyanax in Kershner’s production. Graham Wiatt plays Talthybius, a messenger who comes to tell the women what will happen to them, and Matt Bowyer is the god Poseidon.
Isabella DePaulo ’20 plays Hecuba’s daughter Cassandra, who can see the future but is cursed never to be believed, and Haylei Libran ’20 is Helen — the woman whose beauty and infidelity started the 10-year Trojan War.
The chorus is made up of Taylor Watson ’20, Madeline Widjaja ’19, Macy Stearns ’20, Rachel Altier ’17, Mary Grace Williams ’20, Dana Bushway ’20, Amelia Burnett ’20, Amber Snyder ’20, Erin Snyder ’20, Kate Galbreath ’20 and Jordan Sack ’20.
Managing the stage are Victoria Jemmett ’18 and Sarah Grubb ’20.
Admission for the Oct. 13 performance is free for all area students and teachers with I.D. For all other performances, admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for non-SBC students. Children younger than 12 and SBC community members are admitted free.
Kershner will lead a pre-performance dinner lecture at 6 p.m. in Johnson Dining Room at Prothro on Oct. 15. Dining service begins at 5; regular rates apply.