Sunday, March 17, 2024


By Ruth Ross

So, when I got home last night from witnessing Drita Kabashi’s astounding performance at Luna Stage, I went directly to my college anthology of Greek drama, just to see how much of Euripides’ ancient tragedy The Trojan Women Sarah Farrington had used in her adaptation, A Trojan Woman.

Similar to Aeschylus’ The Persians (472 BCE) and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (411 BCE), The Trojan Women  is a polemic against Athens’ 416 BCE attack on the island of Melos, neutral in the ongoing Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, massacring the men and selling the women into slavery—an act considered by the contemporaneous Greek general Thucydides as the great crucial crime of the war. Notably, the play took second place in the City Dionysus festival that year, losing to a totally forgotten play and playwright! Yet, given the current strife in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, its themes resonate in Farrington’s version just as strongly as they did in the past.

Drita Kabashi is the perfect vessel to transmit these unsettling ideas. With her hair arranged like that of a Greek statue and wearing a dress inside out, she searingly performs all the parts—the widowed Queen Hecuba of Troy, her daughter-in-law Andromache, her daughter Cassandra, the Greek herald Talthybius, King Menelaus of Sparta, the gods Poseidon and Athena, even a chorus of five captive Trojan women—switching from one to another by way of a prop, a facial expression and body posture, and a change of voice that, while disconcerting for the audience at first, nevertheless proves to be quite effective and affecting.

A Trojan Woman is bookended by the deaths of two children. The first could be a Ukrainian/Afghan/Vietnamese/Polish/Japanese/Israeli/Gazan child in a stroller pushed by his mother, who circles the playing space and frantically repeats the mantra, “They don’t kill civilians” … until they do. Safety vanishes in the flash of an explosion, and time is compressed.

As Hecuba cries, “What is a mother without her children,” the action segues to 1200 BCE Troy where, after the opening of the Trojan Horse and the destruction of the city, the remaining women gather to raise their voices in eternal sorrow as they contemplate their terrible fates.

The final scene (left) has Andromache grieving her infant son Astyanax, thrown from the walls of Troy to his death by the Greeks and borne on his father Hector’s shield to burial as his mother laments the events he will never experience, among them graduating from college, marrying, becoming a parent himself. It’s enough to make an audience weep aloud in despair.

For 60 intense minutes on a bare stage, Director Meghan Finn has made Kabashi the focus of our attention. She’s capricious and irritating as Poseidon, lamenting the end of Troy, the city whose walls he built, from which all he hears is keening, the sound of prolonged grief; and Athena, annoyed that the Greeks have desecrated her temple with the rape of a virgin, who plots to make the Greeks’ return to their homeland a difficult journey.

Kabashi’s fierce Andromache faults Hecuba for the war: She bore Paris, who stole Helen from Menelaus and set the entire debacle into action! If Hecuba had been a better mother, neither woman would have found herself childless. This accusation makes the cause of the war more human than just the outcome of a beauty contest among the goddesses!

As Cassandra (right), Kabashi is heartbreakingly mad, whether by Apollo’s decree or from witnessing the horror wrought by the warriors hidden in the horse drawn through the city gates by the Trojans themselves. Her Hecuba, who has lost 50 sons—one, the “iron-hearted” hero Hector—and a daughter Polyxena, is to be pitied as she lies on the shore, welcoming death and thinking of the women who, in the future, will tread the sands where she laid her head. Even as the imperious Talthybius, she conveys some humanity when he haltingly tells Andromache the awful fate decreed for her son and counsels her to move on, for “the show must go on.”

A Trojan Woman was commissioned by the Interbalkan Festival of Ancient Drama & The Tank NYC and received its World Premiere in Athens, Greece, in July 2023. Kudos to Luna Stage and Kabashi’s stunning performance in the National Premiere of this thought-provoking play. Even with some elements of (mostly black) humor, it is the keening over one of the great wrongs of the world made beautiful by the dramatist whom Aristotle called “the most tragic of the poets.” It is a timeless cry echoing across 3,000+ years—with no end in sight—to our great detriment and woe. When will such aggression end?

A Trojan Woman will be performed at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange, through March 24. Performances are Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3 PM; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM; and special added performances on Monday, March 18, at 8 PM (with a talk-back with Montclair State University Professor Mary C. English) and Thursday, March 21, at 1 PM. For information and tickets visit online or call the box office at 973.395.5551.

Photos: Stephanie Gamba