The Santa Rosa-based theater ensemble, The Imaginists, is performing a smart little version of Euripides’ The Trojan Women at The Costume Shop this weekend. They’ve renamed it WarCircus and taken the surviving women of Troy—Hecuba, Cassandra, Helen, Polyxena, and Andromache—and turned them into a troupe of circus performers, and a particularly long-running one at that: they’re doomed to play and re-play the savage consequences of their city’s fall over three thousand years.
In Euripides’ play, the Greek herald Talthybius delivers message after message to the women, each one a touch more devastating than the last. In WarCircus, he’s a beleaguered circus master tasked with keeping the act going by order of a vengeful and diffident Poseidon. It’s a nice transposition of Euripides’s acidic brand of tragedy and just one of the many sharp riffs on The Trojan Women that director Brent Lindsay and his production team manages.
When Helen emerges from a huge smoking egg, she’s already annoyed with her own beauty. Poseidon never appears, but has a series of telepathic conversations with Talthybius, a sly take on hearing voices. Cassandra speaks into a tape recorder to gather evidence of her clairvoyance. Andromache and Talthybius have a wonderful stage whisper argument after she refuses to perform the sacrificing of her daughter’s life, yet again. The most striking touch, though, is the presence of a dressing room—lit almost entirely by makeup lights—just to the side of the circus ring.
There’s something beautiful about dressing rooms, the way performers lull about in them, fiddling with and rechecking their makeup and costumes, waiting for the real action to begin. In WarCircus the dressing room becomes the only place the Trojan women can rest and reflect on their lives, a kind of purgatory before hell instead of heaven. Not all of the production is as sharp as these moments and the proceedings flag towards the end. But The Imaginists have come up with an inventive, searching vision of The Trojan Women and what it means to lose everything except one’s memories.
WarCircus plays at the American Conservatory Theater’s Costume Shop in San Francisco through Saturday, Jan. 30. For tickets and information go to www.theimaginists.org.