Elizabeth Swados' "The Trojan Women"

by Barry Drogin

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I am not often impressed, as my wife will attest, and it is extremely rare that I am awed. Once was back around 1980 when I heard a chorus perform, without conductor, Schoenberg's "Friede auf Erden," and do an excellent job. I was too young to see the original production of "The Trojan Women," which I think was in 1974, and never got to see any subsequent performances. The original cast has been reassembled, with some of their children and some new faces, in a revival at La Mama E.T.C. in New York (66 E 4th St.) that has been extended through Dec. 28. I urge anyone who is anywhere near NYC to call the box office at 475-7710 and experience this opera. It is general admission, so even late comers end up with the best seats in the house (bring comfortable shoes --- you'll be wandering around).

I've followed composer Elizabeth Swados's career for quite a while, from "The Haggadah" with Julie Taymor, the children's book (it was a musical, too, wasn't it?), the "Doonesbury" with Gary Trudeau, and "Runaways" (the last only from recording), and with some admiration, but I'm now a little sad to discover that, despite how good everything else is, she never reached the pure gutsy power of this opera she did with Andrei Serban. It's kind of like seeing all of Orson Welles' work, and THEN seeing "Citizen Kane", and weeping for joy and regret. (Of course, SHE AIN'T DEAD YET, and is at work on an opera, "Missionaries", that I look forward to). But how can I hope to describe what it's like to hear the impossible --- theatre people shouting, chanting, singing, screaming, acting, in ancient Greek? Hecuba imploring, Cassandra pouring her heart out, Helen spitting and seducing, Andromaca swooning over the bath of the child king (in a voice that presages Meredith Monk's), before the child is led away in chains and the mother flings herself from a cliff?

Not to take away from Serban --- Helen stripped naked, smeared with mud, raped by a bull and beheaded. The Greek men grabbing a virgin as the women vainly try to protest. A women comitting suicide, and slowly being carried off by the sea. The women's final strength as they are taken off in a great ship. And all with nothing but wood, some torches, a couple of bowls, a blanket and some simple props --- brilliant, inspired theatrical images that I'll never forget.

This production has long been an Off-Off Broadway legend, and now I know why. If you CAN see this, you MUST.

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Last Updated: August 4, 2007