On stage in front of me is a man holding a golden apple. His feet are resting in a circle of rubber particles resembling a stone circle. His voice is clear, his body is grounded, and he tells a story with this apple as his only prop. This is the beginning of SITI Company's newest production of Irish playwright Jocelyn Clarke's adaptation of Trojan Women (After Euripides) at BAM as part of the Next Wave Festival.
Director Anne Bogart leads a cast of mostly strong actors through this beautifully staged production. The problem with staging a play that sits so heavily on the abilities of the actors involved is that a few weak links can keep the play from being truly phenomenal. Such was the case here. However, the strength of certain actors greatly outweighs the weaknesses of others, and this production is doing so much important work that I still highly recommend it.
In order to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of this production, I must first explain what SITI Company is. Founded by Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki in 1992, this New York-based company "seeks to redefine and revitalize contemporary theater in the United States through an emphasis on international cultural exchange and collaboration." Suzuki's method of physical actor training is something I have been lucky enough to do during my own actor training, and his emphasis on the connection between body, breath, and movement leads to a bodily vocabulary not often seen in the United States.
The benefits of such training is obvious as soon as Brent Werzner's Poseidon walks onto the stage in a graceful but powerful walk (reminiscent of the Suzuki exercise known as "slow 10"). Werzner is soon joined by Ellen Lauren's Hecuba, whose unparalleled control of her voice and body would carry the show even if everyone else suddenly stopped acting. Lauren's performance is truly virtuosic, and even with a play that does not have a very pronounced arc of emotion, the notes she brings out in Hecuba are a beautiful hybrid of nuance and stylization. Some other standouts include Akiko Aizawa as Kassandra, Leon Ingulsrud as the Envoy, and Makela Spielman as Andromache.
Again, the challenge of staging the play in such an actor-central way is that every actor must be on the same level. In this particular case, it is the moments where weaker actors work with stronger actors that I felt disconnected. There is simply no way around the fact that Katherine Crockett's Helen could not actually exist in a scene with Lauren's Hecuba. Helen has a more overtly antagonistic role in this adaptation than the original Euripides text, and this could easily work if these characters were both living in the same fictitious world.
Unfortunately, Crockett's Helen seems to be playing "the pretty girl" without any connection to the breath and bodywork that should still rightfully accompany any characterization in this particular play. As a trained dancer, I am sure that Crockett is more than capable of this work. But between her high heels, which prohibited movement, and the disconnect between her voice and her breathing, her character was never expressed to the degree of some of her peers.
Despite these moments of unbalance, I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of Trojan Women (After Euripides). It is so rare today that we get the chance to see an American company of actors who are not specializing in "The Method." I have nothing wrong with realism or naturalism or any type of method acting at all, but I do believe in a multiplicity of acting techniques, especially since so many exist! Also, when the production works, it manages to blend aspects of American, Japanese, and Greek culture into something that transcends all of these labels and creates something else entirely.
For all of these reasons, I am grateful to SITI Company for this production, and I hope that you will be intrigued enough to go see it for yourself. Comparing theatrical styles across different culture is sometimes like comparing apples to oranges and sometimes apples to apples. They differences matter of course, but in the end, they're all fruit, and they're all good for your theatrical diet.