Theater Review: The Trojan Women
The Trojan Women. Directed by Yukio Ninagawa; Hebrew translation by Shimon Buzaglo, at the Cameri Theater, December 29.
Sound designer Masahiro Inoue and composer Umitaro Abe take the honors in this
daring, ambitious Israeli/Japanese co-production of The Trojan Women. A choir
wails, entreats, mourns and whispers. Bells, gongs and crashing percussion
intensify the drama as they signal its unfolding, and behind it all the endless
crash of waves upon the shore.
For we are on the Trojan shore from whence
the victorious Greek fleet will soon set sail for home, laden with rich plunder
from the conquered city. The Trojan women of the title, and the play’s Chorus,
are their noble captives destined for humiliation and slavery, apportioned like
cookies among the victors.
The Chorus of Greek tragedy is there to
narrate the big picture, to offer comment and generally move the action along.
Director Ninagawa has used Euripides’ classical 15, five each Japanese, Israeli
and Israeli Arab, each speaking their own language in order to highlight their
The leads, too, are divided so that one character may
be speaking Japanese while another speaks Hebrew or Arabic.
these is distinguished Japanese actress Kayoko Shiraishi, who plays Hecuba,
Queen of Troy and widow of the slaughtered Priam. Her daughter Cassandra,
Apollo’s virgin priestess and cursed prophet is Israel’s Ola Shur Selektar),
Israeli-Arab Rawda plays great Hector’s widow, Andromache and so
Written during the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BCE), Trojan
Women demonstrates how war debases, how victor and vanquished both lose, how
women in particular bear its brunt. This Trojan Women calls up echoes from the
First and Second World Wars, and, most shockingly, 9/11 – how not? Classical
Greek drama lends itself to the equally classical forms and conventions of
Japan’s Noh and Kabuki traditions that Ninagawa employs to underpin this Trojan
But above all Greek drama is text, and if the actors cannot plumb
that text, the production plummets. Unhappily that is mostly the case
The cast is not entirely to blame. Since the English and Hebrew
translations are pedestrian, to put it politely, one can only surmise that the
Japanese and Arabic translations are similar.
Nonetheless, despite a
clunky text, its repetitions by each chorus quintet does not work, not only
because they impede the action, but because most of the Chorus don’t seem to
have a clue what they are saying or how to say it, either physically or vocally.
Clad disastrously in a kind of white diaper, Poseidon (Ashraf Barhom) suffers
this same impediment, as do Athena (Shiri Gadni) and
Happily there are exceptions. Moti Katz as an overdressed, over-jeweled, blue-clad Menelaus brings him to precise and comic life as a
The lovely Yoka Wao delivers a sultry and mysterious
Helen. Mahmud Abu-Jazi is sturdy and decent as reluctant Greek herald Talthybius
and Rawda makes Andromache very real.
“Pity and terror” truly describe
the moving scenes between her and Hecuba, but it has to be said that Shiraishi’s
bereft queen too often slips over into garrulous harridan.
impressive, the actual drama of this Trojan Women has buckled under its own