“TROJAN BARBIE:” HOW PEOPLE ARE TREATED WHEN THEY ARE DEFEATEDBy Greggory Moore
With Trojan Barbie, which is making its West Coast premiere at the Garage Theatre, playwright Christine Evans is following in the footsteps of Jean-Paul Sartre, et al., in using Euripides’s social commentary The Trojan Women to reflect on how we treat the defeated in our contemporary conflicts. It’s an idea that continues to serve, since in our 21st-century world the subjugation of the weaker among us is not much less of a tragedy than it was in the 5th century BCE.
But Evans broadens her examination to include the question of how history builds upon itself, embedding the history of mistreatment (of the conquered, of women and children) within events as close to—and as removed from—the relative comfort of rich, Western-style democracies as the clicking of a hyperlink or the pressing of a TV remote’s “on” button.
The great city-state Troy has been defeated, its men killed off or taken away as slaves. Aside from burning ruins, all that’s left is a refugee camp of about 30 Trojan women, including members of the formerly royal family, headed by Hecuba (Amy Louise Sebelius), who opens the play lamenting about the decimation of both her homeland and her family. And things are only getting worse, as her daughters and grandson are about to receive some rather brutal treatment at the hands of their conquerors.
Trojan Barbie becomes more than simply a retelling of The Trojan Women with the introduction of Lotte (Rebecca Cherkoss), an Englishwoman whose desire for a spot of adventure leads her to become something of a war tourist, a choice that leads her to experience a bit more than she bargained for. Evans’s examination of the blitheness with which many of us regard tragic events half a world away is compelling enough to allow us to forgive and forget a motif concerning modern art that starts off a bit nebulously and then simply dissipates into nothingness.
But history is what’s under the microscope here. “The present is pregnant with death, because the past fucked it already,” says Cassandra (played with wild intensity by Michelle Michau)—a fitting figure to voice such insight, considering she is fated never to be believed. Thus do we find ourselves with the same problems century after century, personifying George Santayana’s dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
It’s both good and bad that Trojan Barbie, originally written as a commission for a massive stage, is playing in such a tiny space like the Garage Theatre. The bad is that being so close means we’re not always able to appreciate director Olivia Treviño’s staging, which is finely composed (even if the flow does suffer a bit in the scene changes. I’ve never so wished for a theatrical production to be able to implement the “dissolve”-style scene change common to film). The good is that we’re immersed in Jamie Sweet’s fine lighting design, which at its best helps generate some immersive imagery that perfectly plays off the simple but effective curtains serving as the set’s backdrop.
Treviño does a fine job combining the elements she has on hand for maximum effectiveness, incorporating lighting, sound, acting, and even dance in such ways that the whole is always properly served.
“[…] I just landed in a big mess and muddled my way through,” muses Lotte after returning from her wartime adventure. Trojan Barbie doesn’t suggest that we can do more than muddle through, but that we might do so with more compassion and empathy. Perhaps then we’ll finally stop fucking ourselves time and again.
TROJAN BARBIE THE GARAGE THEATRE • 251 E 7TH ST (JUST OFF LONG BEACH BLVD) • LONG BEACH 90813 • 562.433.8337 THEGARAGETHEATRE.ORG • THURS-SAT 8PM • $18; $15 FOR STUDENTS & SENIORS; CLOSING NIGHT + PARTY $20 • THROUGH OCT 13