By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
Garden Grove’s Shakespeare Orange County recently put on stellar productions of plays based on ancient historical records. Its staging of this summer’s “Julius Caesar” and the “The Comedy of Errors” has roots cultivated by the Greeks, circa 600 B.C., when theater as we know it was born.
Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” was taken from accounts of Greek historian Plutarch; “Comedy of Errors” is set in Syracuse which is steeped in Greek history.
Each September, Southern California’s theater-lovers can get in touch with Greek tragedy at the Getty Villa in Malibu, currently presenting a riveting production based on Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” through Oct 1.
This is said to be the greatest of anti-war plays. It was first performed in 415 B.C.and has been often revived, particularly in the sixties during the Vietnam anti-war protests. A big part of the effectiveness at the Getty is the amphitheater location, with columns leading into the museum in back of the stage. We experience it in much the way the Greeks would.
This year’s production comes from the acclaimed SITI theater group in New York The company, under the direction of Anne Bogart, is uniformly effective in each role.
Standing out particularly is the gut-wrenching performance of Ellen Lauren as Hecuba, Queen of Troy, and the alluring presence of Katherine Crockett as Helen of Troy.
During a prelude, the god Poseidon (an imperially impressive Brent Werzner), vanquished protector of Troy, comes on stage holding a golden apple, symbolizing the temptation represented by Helen, the results of which have brought the city down. He goes on to relate how Paris, a Trojan prince, abducted Helen from Greek king Meneleus, taking her to Troy. This act led to the famous launching of a thousand ships by the Greeks to avenge the deed and bring Helen home. The resulting war continued for 10 years.
He details how the Greeks built a large wooden horse and how the Trojans, taking it for a gift, brought it into the city. Greek soldiers then erupted from within and ravaged Troy, slaughtering the men and enslaving the women.
As the plays opens, the royal women are assembled to be transported as slaves to Greece. There are Hecuba, her daughters, Kassandra (a delirious, ranting Akiko Aizawa) and Andromache (a defiant Makela Spielman), clutching her baby son. Also present is statuesque beauty, Helen.
She has her version of why she was not responsible for her actions and the resultant mayhem.
Men come off badly here. King Meneleus is shown as weak and inconsistent (effectively so by Ed Ariza), and an arrogant King Odysseus (Gian-Murray Gianino).
The legendary sailor is not a wily hero in this case but a vainglorious exploiter, eager to grab his bounty. Admirable, though, is the eunuch priest, protector of Hecuba (a staunch, loyal Barney O’Hanlon.)
The play reaches a stunning climax when Hecuba, beyond grief, contemplating the horrible death of her grandson, slumps to the ground, uttering a primal scream as flames engulf Troy.
Those who come to the play should leave time to explore the Villa museum itself. Over 1,200 works of ancient art are on view in galleries organized by theme. For instance art and sculpture dealing with “Mythological Heroes” is grouped in one room, “Dionysus and Theater” in another, as is “Athletes and Competition.”
Timelines are included in each room, making it easy to see how pieces fit into the whole of history.
The Getty Villa is just off Pacific Coast Highway at 1200 Getty Center Drive; turn off just north of Sunset Boulevard. Phone (310) 440-7300; www.getty.edu.