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REVIEW: Athens’ Persona Theater Company & New York’s Theater Three Collaborative’s “TROY TOO”
“A visceral, timely, and communal lament that cuts across languages and cultures bound together by the cyclical nature of tragedy”
Karen Malpede's “Troy Too,” jointly presented by Athens’ Persona Theater Company & New York’s Theater Three Collaborative, opens with filmed scenes on location in presumably ancient ruins in Athens. Here we are introduced to the sultry and seedy goddesses Prophet and Plague, played with commanding verve by Ilia Pappa and Anthi Savvaki. Director of photography & video art Michael Demetrius ensures we are swept away by the grandeur of expansive emptiness while they roam the ruins, paired against scenes in a bustling pace of modern city life where the brooding women expound on the decision to wreak havoc on humanity as part of a due course of action. Meanwhile physically in the room with us, bodies lay in plastic bags on a dimly lit, trashed stage.
While a fondness for romantic ruins is nothing new in Western obsessions, there is something poignant in Malpede’s opening multimedia juxtaposition mirroring our recent pandemic time’s reliance on a digital-first mindset while structures both political and cultural decay around us at newly alarming speeds. Throughout 2020, buildings, streets, even entire neighborhoods of once bustling cities slowed to the brink of decimation. While inquisitive urban geographers and countless Instagram pages have made something of a cult of the exploration of abandoned buildings, especially those of recent decades, from abandoned amusement parks to forbidding suburban asylums, a newfound understanding and fearful reverence of abandonment has come to affect us all.
This closeness to ruin sits with us during “Troy Too,” a poetic play sitting in conversation with Euripides’ The Trojan Women and the modern crises of Covid, climate change, and racism. Crafted in the heat of 2020 from language found on the streets during the protests for racial justice, in hospitals during the Covid lockdown, and from the imagined mouths of endangered fish in the sea, the play cracks open our assumptions of antiquity and inverts our classical reverence into a contemporary call to action.
A true ensemble piece with a multiracial cast led by one of Greece’s finest classical actresses, Lydia Koniordou, “Troy Too” strives to champion big ideas, and in doing so, sacrifices specificity for moral lamentation. Out of the body bags, our cast arises in poetic language and staging helmed by Greek director Avra Sidiropoulou, milking fluid scenes of heartbreak and decay that gives each actor time to indulge. Like its Euripides inspiration, “Troy Too” centers a host of characters grappling with the fallout from powerful and irrational forces, only here helpless against conquest and destruction from alternating scenes of police brutality, global pandemic, and pollution. To address these very current, intersectional issues is a Herculean undertaking and a powerful capability of live theatre that we often forget is possible in a culture plagued with long development times. For that, this joint presentation proves a beacon for successful social justice and international collaboration that should challenge the capitalist constraints of time that dictate our current New York theatre landscape, encourage more works of immediate reaction and relevancy, and incite audiences to real-time collective trauma processing and protestation.
Malpede’s characters, however, are more caricature than complex. What they lack in specificity they make up for in transformative permutations of pain and suffering, wherein each actor wears many hats to physically embody a throughline of a suffering present throughout human history and geography. Koniordou acts as our buoy leading us through the depressing onslaught of time, delivering lines in Greek that land like skipping stones over water– a transfixing cadence that you know holds weight. The beauty of the piece is found in moments of modern Greek chorus scenes, with the cast coming together and rhythmically speaking Malpede’s delectable dirges, using song and melody to invoke communal thinking or diametric disagreements. Punctuated by the astute scenic and lighting design of Tony Giovannetti, the play comes up for air for brief moments of levity, notably with a talking fish doomed to pollution. Any relief the audience feels to laugh though is quickly snatched away; as the fish repeats and repeats “I can’t breathe,” a heartbreaking silence connecting the thematic dots of the play falls over the audience.
Like the ruins the play begins with, “Troy Too” has the structure to withstand the test of time. With further sharpening of individual character, the piece would stand to elicit true catharsis instead of guarded empathy, and it leads me to wonder 1. if the passage of time is just what the show ironically needs in order to get an already world-weary, cynical audience “too close to the action” on its side and 2. if this emphasis I desire on individual character development over a symbolic and ensemble collective is driven by Western ideology that bled into our storytelling norms, would the piece benefit and learn from being presented in a more collectivist, perhaps Eastern country next? Experimental permutations on Euripides flourish perhaps for the very communal aspect I bemoan; but recent iterations like the National Theater of Korea’s pansori “Trojan Women” at least centers main characters with an emotional journey we can follow instead of vignettes. Regardless, “Troy Too” gets under your skin as a visceral, timely, and communal lament that cuts across languages and cultures bound together by the cyclical nature of tragedy.
NEW YORK’S THEATER THREE COLLABORATIVE AND ATHENS’ PERSONA THEATER COMPANY PRESENT KAREN MALPEDE’S “TROY TOO”
Written by Karen Malpede
Directed by Avra Sidiropoulou
The cast features Lydia Koniordou, Tommie J. Moore, Abigail Ramsay, Najla Said, David Glover, Ilker Oztop, and Di Zhu along with Ilia Pappa and Anthi Savvaki on film.
The creative team includes Tony Giovannetti (scenic and lighting design), Carissa Kelly & Sally Ann Parsons (costume design), Vanias Apergis (composer), Michael Demetrius (director of photography & video art), Elena Vannoni (assistant director), Miriam Crowe (assistant lighting designer), Jee Duman (Production Stage Manager), and John Concannon (production stage manager).
“Troy Too” ran May 11–21, 2023 at HERE, located at 145 Sixth Avenue, just below Spring Street, in Manhattan. For more information visit www.here.org.
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