No Second Troy
by Karen Hartman
directed by Dvora Inwood
at the Leverett House Old Library
through November 20
No Second Troy, by Karen Hartman, author of Reproducing Georgia, takes a well-known Greek myth and transforms it into interesting social commentary, using the dialogue between two women to propel a complex and action-filled tale.
The production at the Leverett House Old Library highlights the energy in the hour-long play and focuses on thought-provoking questions, although this is subordinated to the portrayal of the relationship between two sisters.
The play takes place as Cassandra (Daniella Raz) and her sister Polyxena (Esme Howard) are in the temple of Apollo waiting for the Greeks, led by Achilles, to storm the temple and capture them. According to myth, Cassandra, who refused the god Apollo's advances, has been cursed by him to speak the truth but never be believed. As a result, she knows what will happen to both herself and her sister. When Cassandra explains that Polyxena must show herself to the Greeks, after which she will be burned and Cassandra will be taken across the sea and murdered, Polyxena is sceptical.
But as the play proceeds, the line between reality and myth becomes blurred. Sibling love and rivalry help transport the story to the present day. Departing from the classical story completely, Polyxena starts to bring in modern references, such as "Diet Coke," which she jarringly inserts in the middle of a dialogue.
In addition to reciting a list of topics which affect women in the twentieth century, Polyxena and Cassandra act out a rape scene after Polyxena invites two men to drive in her red convertible; they're obviously not in Troy anymore. Polyxena tries to convince Cassandra to visit her therapist, while Cassandra prophesies the fall of Troy. While inspiring philosophical questions as to who is sane, who mad, and who prophetic, the play does not rely on a political message primarily; it is simply even more intriguing because of it.
The play moves along at a fast pace, due to the strong and well-developed main characters. Raz plays the part of the prophetic but crazy virginal sister with grace. Her poise on stage keeps the play from veering into the mere representation of a politically motivated concept. By creating the switch from despondent to revitalized prophetess believably, she counterbalances Howard's energy and also propels the play forward.
Howard, although occasionally stiff, performs the even more difficult task of creating the modern-classical tension in the play. By playing Polyxena as a classical character with modern-day worries and emotions, Howard forms the believable bridge which makes the play so interesting.
No Second Troy is at points too obviously a play. Because the set never changes and the action of the play is created by only two performers, the play's messages are sometimes conveyed over-emphatically.
But the physical movements of both actors on stage keep the performance at a high intensity level up through the end. By using large movements and exaggeratedly expressive gestures, they render the absence of other performers on stage unnoticeable. On the contrary, the performance seems action-filled.
The delivery of difficult rape scenes, where both actors must convey the violence of the scene while describing it and acting it out, is particularly skillful. The reverse scene, in which the female performers act out the parts of Achilles and Ajax, the perpetrators in the rape, creates a mood of self-assertion which neatly contrasts with the periods of despair. No Second Troy, if only for its subject and delivery, is well worth an hour of your time, and as is so seldom the case, it is also original.