Director Bobbie Bell saves the best for last in Seminole Community College's production of Trojan Women. Hairs are raised as multimedia effects kick in and a message of despair is sent home: War is hell.
The holocaust is experienced through the women of Troy in Bell's own translation and adaptation of Euripides' ancient anti-war classic, which details the immediate aftermath of the Greek military's destruction of Troy. Euripides had a complex if dark outlook on life, but he was a freethinker and a humanist trapped in the hypocrisies of religion and politics. Much of Bell's body of work as a writer, actor and director is tempered by a similar smoldering over senseless conflict and carnage.
To that end, Bell's set, as designed by a clever Richard Harmon, evokes the endless scenes on TV of bombed-out buildings in Iraq. We see a stone wall with a cavelike opening that's been caused by an explosion, and the sandy terrain around it. The women are dressed in burqas and the soldiers in American-style camouflage uniforms.
As the tragedy unfolds, dethroned queen Hecuba of Troy and her handful of daughters and handmaidens have been corralled by Greek soldiers outside the burning city. Their fates await them: Torture, rape, slavery and death are among the probabilities. The wretched Hecuba is already bowled over with grief when the play begins her king and her son Hector are both dead, her country in ruins. Over the next 90 minutes, indignity upon indignity continues to tumble down on Hecuba and the other women the violation never stops. The lamentations of the women don't either, which by the end of the proceedings solicits a frustrating anticipation: Just when you think neither Hecuba nor you can handle one more bout of soul-crushing pain, here comes another. There is no salvation.
The student production benefits from the participation of a few guest artists, including Maria Ragen as Hecuba, who holds up well as the pillar of the production, however bleak her character's predicament becomes. Also noteworthy is Kimberly Luffman as the virgin priestess Cassandra, Hecuba's daughter, whose gift of providence has turned into a fevered madness after she's been raped and abused.
Veteran student performer Rick Paulin makes believable the difficult role of the Greek army messenger responsible for relaying the harsh sentences the Greek generals have imposed upon the women; he's loyal to his leaders but conflicted by a his own growing sense of dishonor. As Helen of Troy, fellow student Amy Tyree proudly delivers a radical defense of her complicity in the defeat, with her burqa off and her yellow hair shining like false gold. She decries the concocted role of her irresistible beauty as a scapegoat for the waging of war: Greed led to the destruction of Troy, not lust. And student Paula Trinidad, as widowed Andromache, plays her Sophie's Choice moment for all its understated impact.
Ultimately, because of the shuddersome finale, a powerful anti-war message is delivered on the sleepy Seminole County campus. But the ending also causes an imbalance with what has come before. In the play's initial scene, for example, Athena and Poseidon meet and decide they are both up in arms about the Greek atrocities; we then never see them again. More fire in the opening and body of the play, and less wailing (especially the kind that sounds like the bleating of a sheep) would benefit the building rhythm of Bell's update.
According to history, Euripides did not shy away from the social issues of the time. The same can be said for Bell and his crew.
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