Euripides’s “Trojan Women” is often held up as a model of antiwar sentiment. It is that, but it’s also a masterwork of human psychology in which the title women, bereft of all hope, confront their Greek captors in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Is life as a slave or a concubine preferable to death? Should you be nice to your new master? Do the gods matter? Commissioned by the J. Paul Getty Museum and first presented at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles in 2011, SITI Company’s 110-minute version looks to pare the drama down to its bare Euripidean essentials. Adapter Jocelyn Clarke has in fact stripped Euripides’s text of flesh as well as flash, but he and SITI artistic director Anne Bogart have created a powerful new work, and the production now up on the Paramount Center Mainstage, under the auspices of ArtsEmerson, boasts a signature performance by Ellen Lauren as Queen Hecuba. If it’s not exactly Euripides’s “Trojan Women,” it’s still a very good one.
And it goes its own way from the very beginning. Euripides starts us off with an exchange between Poseidon and Athena, the two of them kvetching about the destruction of their shrines and vowing vengeance on the Greeks while barely deigning to notice the humiliated Hecuba groveling in the dirt behind them. Here, Poseidon (Brent Werzner) has the stage to himself. Wearing a sea-blue tunic and pants, he strides slowly, powerfully toward the audience and, holding a golden apple in one hand, tells of the fall of Troy, blaming the war on “the jealousy of men” and “the vanity of gods.” Making explicit what Euripides needed only to hint at, he also tells the story of the golden apple, how it was Hecuba’s son Paris who gave it to Aphrodite (angering Miss Olympus beauty contest rivals Hera and Athena), and how Aphrodite then made Menelaus’s wife Helen leave him and run off to Troy with Paris, thus starting the Trojan War.