Hecuba’s guttural howling echoed through the Malibu hills Thursday night, while striking orange lighting transformed the Getty Villa into the burning city of Troy. The SITI Company’s performance of Trojan Women directed by Anne Bogart and adapted by Jocelyn Clarke, captivated the audience and distracted them from the chilly ocean breeze that pierced the night. The broken and lost Hecuba, played to perfection by Ellen Lauren, stood in the center of the outdoor amphitheatre, flanked by the original Getty Museum, an exquisite set piece for this particular play. Lauren commanded the stage and pulled the audience into her suffering with flawless ease. The opening of the play presents a soliloquy by Poseidon, (Brent Werzner) who is the master puppeteer of the entire production. Though it begins dryly, his powerful voice sets the stage beautifully for the production that follows. Throughout the rest of the play Poseidon stands off in the distance, waving his arms as if controlling every scene. However, the instant Hecuba appears, walking from within the Getty out onto the stage, the hurt this woman is feeling is apparent without a word needing to be uttered and Lauren takes over the rest of the night.
This play belongs to the women. Though all of the members of the company could be complimented or even criticized, it was the nuanced, perfected performances of Kassandra (Akiko Aizawa) and Andromache (Makela Spielman) as well as the aforementioned Lauren that made this performance what it was. Throughout the production if one did not have lines, they were often wandering around upstage, but never breaking character; Kassandra was presented as crazy from the moment she stepped onto stage, with frizzled hair and a glazed look. Aizawa could be denounced for her foreign accent, which did not fit into the Trojan persona, and yet her speech added another layer to the character of Kassandra. Aizawa played her to a point where the audience was laughing with her and pitying her at the same time. One could not help but smile at her running madly in circles in the old museum while Hecuba carried on with the scene downstage.
Spielman’s defense of killing her own son is heartbreaking and astonishing. The moment Andromache loses her child, the entire audience gasps. Everyone has been so engrossed in this performance that they mourn with the widow.
The theater is meant to transport the audience to different worlds, there is something so special about going to a play and being face to face with the actors. This fact also presents an immense challenge to the actors, for they must work much harder to take the audience on that journey, because they can see the sets and lights on the stage. The Getty Villa’s Trojan Women succeeds in captivating the audience even though the performance itself was an hour and a half without intermission and the audience was seated on backless benches. This cast transformed that theater into the fallen city of Troy and for that they should be applauded.