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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB’s ‘Trojan Women’ Portrays Universal Misery of War

The Euripides melodrama runs through March 6 in the Hatlen Theatre on campus

The UCSB Department of Theater & Dance has come up with a fairly exotic offering to close February and open March: six performances of Euripides’ melodrama The Trojan Women, in an adaptation by French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and rendered from French into English by Ronald Duncan.

Directed by UCSB faculty member Jeff Mills, The Trojan Women features scenic design by Andrew Karlin, costumes by recent UCSB graduate Valerie Mondo and lighting design by UCSB faculty member Vickie Scott.

The cast, all UCSB students, includes Madeline Minor as Hecuba, Annabelle Rollison as Helen, Joelle Golda as Andromache and Alexia Dox as Cassandra. David Santana and Amanda Berning play Poseidon and Athena. The other principal character, the Chorus, is made up of Bonny Davis, Noemi Gonzalez, Amitty Kasowski, Jennifer Michaels, Ashley Moore, Domonique Pacitto, Tarah Pollock, Hasmik Saakian, Courtney Salvage and Paulette Zubata.

French writers of the 20th century showed a positive mania for adapting Greek tragedies and Greek myths to their own purposes. Jean Cocteau got into the game early, of course, turning out his version of Antigone in 1922 and a rather wicked Oedipus in 1937. (“My dear,” Oedipus tells his wife, Jocasta, “that broach is absolutely blinding!”)

André Gide rewrote Sophocles’ Oedipus in 1931, and his 1946 retelling of the myth of Theseus — legendary founder of Athens — has one of my favorite opening sentences: “I wanted to tell the story of my life as a lesson for my son Hippolytus; but he is no more, and I am telling it all the same.”)

Jean Giraudoux gave us an Electra in 1937. Jean Anouilh’s Antigone came out in 1942, during the German occupation, and Medea in 1946. And this is only a partial list.

Euripides’ tragedy was produced in Athens in 415 B.C., about the middle of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). Shortly before, the Athenians had destroyed the city of Melos, which had tried to remain neutral in the war. The Athenians had killed all the men of Melos and enslaved the women and children. This had rather sickened the folks on the Athenian homefront, and Euripides’ play is very much a protest against the war.

In the nearly 2,500 years since then, a revival of The Trojan Women is often a signal that a populace is turning against some war being fought in its name. Sartre’s Les Troyennes was published in 1965, after the French had thrown in the towel in Algeria. While it mainly is a faithful rendering of the original, its author was an ardent champion of Algerian independence and inserted a few not-so-veiled references to the conflict into the Chorus. He had sound historical justification.

The Trojan Women opens Friday and runs through March 6 in the Hatlen Theatre on the UCSB campus. Tickets are $17 for general admission, and $13 for students, seniors, and UCSB faculty and staff. Tickets are available at the Department of Theater & Dance ticket office, located adjacent to the Hatlen Theater. Call 805.893.7501. Click here to purchase tickets online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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