Thursday, December 17, 2009

Trojan Barbie - by Christine Evans

Trojan Barbie
was performed at ART (recently I think) and is published in the current issue of TheatreForum, the sub-title or description is: "A car-crash encounter with Euripedes' Trojan Women."

The characters are Hecuba, mother of Polly X and Cassandra and mother-in-law to Andromache; along with the royal family is a chorus of women Clea and Esme. Helen (of Troy), Menelaus, Helen's slighted husband and possibly Talthybius are also from Euripedes play. Additionally here we have, Lotte, a British holiday-maker and doll repairer; Mica, Officer in Blue, Jorge and Max from the conquering army; and Clive, Lotte's fantasy partner. Race is not indicated for the women, however the men of the army are indicated as Latino, African, and African American.

The play is set in a present and past that has encrouched on the current world. It takes place in a real Troy as well as the mythic one - with action occuring in Britain at Lotte's doll hosiptal, and a refuge camp where the women are being held indefinitely by the conquering army.

The play opens with Lotte making plans for her singles tour to Troy which is followed by a monologue from Polly X where she relates visiting an art museum, after the looting everything of value had been taken leaving only the contemporary art. She relates her plans to become a sculptor and to make 'Trojan Barbie' a huge heart made of smashed up dolls. As she commits herself to her art and to revenge, two soldiers appear and drag her away.

The next scene deposits us squarely in the refuge camp. Hecuba is grieving and a camp guard is spinning the 'strategic plan' ad infinitum. Interspersed is Lotte, packing essentials for her trip abroad. Cassandra enters prophisizing destruction and Helen breezes through wondering why these ladies don't keep themselves up - the guards are so much more helpful when you're wearing a bit of lippy. It's a montage of tones and agendas and rising emotions, broken by an image of Lotte, carefully making her way towards them with her roll-on bag and map.

This is followed by what becomes a major strand of the play, Polly X getting drunk in the zoo with Max and Jorge. Polyxena, Hecuba's youngest daughter, we know from the old stories had her neck slit open so that her blood spilled over the grave of Achilles. Polly X, here a punky barely adolescent girl, gets drunk and treats her night out with the two young soldiers as a welcome escape from the camp. It's us who knows where this is going and scene after scene it gets worse, she's innocently crushing on the younger soldier, Jorge, while Max tries to get her to take her shirt off - this increases to its inevitable end which becomes the final image of the play - her standing defiant, her neck slit by the soldiers - with her vision of her sculpture "Trojan Barbie" behind her - herself one of the broken dolls.

Amidst Polly's story is Lotte and the women in the camp. Their world's overlap with Lotte being pulled into the camp by guards after offering comfort to Andromache at a cafe. Her protests that she's a British citizen and attempts to keep herself apart from the pain of the women in the camp - seem to work when she is suddenly called for by the Officer in Blue and removed.

Finally she is home, working on her dolls and reflecting on her adventure which was covered in the national press,
The only part that really disturbs me is, with all the media hoo-hah, they never asked about the women. About where they were taking them in the trucks. And I don't know how to find out. Nobody asked anything about the women. It was all focused on me, goodness knows why, I mean I didn't really do anything except manage to get rescued! Thank God. I guess in time everything will feel normal again, and the memories will fade, but it's like they just drove off into a big black hole or something, and that does distress me -
(Lotte, Scene 15)

At this point Hecuba enters as a bag lady screaming for her babies - the dolls Lotte is working on in her workshop. A man, recognizable from the camps, but now a hospital worker, rushes in apologizing for her, and bundles her off into the rain. And then Polly's final image amongst the dolls emerges.

The TheatreForum publication has photos from the production, which give some sense of how it can be laid out in space. The separate worlds melding into one another and characters from myth, present, and dream co-exist melding and sometimes taking over one another. Also, the images of the text - particularly the dolls, are documented. One particularly striking one is Andromache with her little boy, a child-sized doll with hinged joints and glass eyes.

And just as in Euripedes time, the play portrays the women and children of war - bombing campaigns, and liberations and spreading democracy - or whatever it may be called - that results in people consigned to camps, losing their lives and families, and asks the audience to see them, hear them and ask where they are, how are they living - where do those trucks go? And how are we complicit in this.

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