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A Greek Tragedy for Our Times

In Karen Malpede’s latest play, the characters from Euripedes’ The Trojan Women invite us to interrogate the calamities we have lived through in recent years and how they have affected us.

Eleanor J. Bader May 15, 2023

The ancient city of Troy has been shrouded in myth for almost 3,000 years — ever since Homer composed The Iliad, an epic poem about a war between the Trojans and the Greeks that ended in the city’s destruction. Later, Greek playwrights drew inspiration from Homer’s tale, including Euripides, who wrote The Trojan Women, which gives voice to those whose lives have been devastated by the conflict. 

The nonlinear work showcases Lydia Koniordou, considered one of Greece’s finest classical actors.

Whether the Trojan War was ever fought or its leading protagonists ever existed remains impossible to say. But it continues to inspire new creations. Karen Malpede’s latest play, Troy Too, places Euripides’ characters in a modern context, including the Trojan Queen Hecuba, whose family was annihilated by the Greeks and Cassandra, the Trojan princess who can see the future but is fated to never be believed.

Troy Too is a pastiche of dramatic snippets that interrogate the many forces that currently threaten life on earth. Can we, the play asks, mitigate climate change as we simultaneously attend to other ills, among them ageism, class inequality, COVID-19, homelessness, police violence, poverty, racism and a near-constant array of ecological losses?

From left to right: Lydia Koniordou (Hecuba), Abigail Ramsay (Andromache/bereaved mother), David Glover (Astyanax/Elijah McLain), Tommie J. Moore (Talthybius/rookie cop). Back row: Ilker Oztop and Ethan Jones (chorus). Beatriz Schiller
Di Zhu as the prophetess, Kassandra. Beatriz Schiller

The nonlinear work showcases Lydia Konirodou, considered one of Greece’s finest classical actors, and her intense performance as Hecuba is filled with mournful angst. “People will learn or be destroyed,” she declares. Her heartfelt lament — for New York City, for the United States, and for the world as a whole — highlights the stakes of ignoring the multiple crises we’re facing. It’s heavy stuff.

What’s more, by incorporating material that Malpede found and heard at Black Lives Matter protests, along with statements delivered by medical professionals during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown, the play provides a focused — and moving — segue between past and present. 

One of the most affecting moments involves a recitation of the final words of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black massage therapist who died in 2019 — unarmed and threatening no one — after police in Aurora, Colorado, restrained him with a chokehold and then injected him with Ketamine following a complaint that someone “sketchy” was roaming their neighborhood.

The words “I Can’t Breathe” are repeated throughout the hour-long performance and conjure the deaths of others at the hands of overzealous police as well as the respiratory distress of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the earliest days of the pandemic. 

All told, Troy Too is a dolorous work, an ode to grief and loss. At the same time, the play presents people who continue to offer love and comfort to one another, who continue to protest inequities, and who persist in carrying on with their lives. Whether this can continue, and for how long, however, remain open questions. 

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Troy Too, written by Karen Malpede. Directed by Avra Sidiropoulou. Music by Vanias Apergis. Video by Michael Demetrius. Costumes by Sally Ann Parsons and Carissa Kelly. Lighting and space design by Tony Giovannetti. Stage management by Neno. 

Cast: George Bartenieff [on video], David Glover, Ethan Jones, Lydia Konirodou, Tommie J. Moore, Ilker Oztop, Illia Pappa, Abigail Ramsay, Anthi Savaki and Di Zhu.

Produced by Theater Three Collaborative in New York and Persona Theatre in Athens.

Remaining Performances: May 18, 19 & 20 at 7 p.m.; May 20 & 21 at 2 p.m. Talkbacks will take place after the May 20 matinee an. Click here to purchase tickets

All performances are at the HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Ave., Manhattan

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