The Trojan War (2013)

Let me begin this postmortem by saying that I am incredibly proud of our final production of 2013: The Trojan War.  The idea of creating a comprehensive account of this mythic conflict has been with me for years, ever since I read Homer’s Iliad in high school and realized that the Trojan Horse, the most powerful icon of the entire siege, was not included in the most famous text about it.  The story of the myth is spread across innumerable documents from as many diverse artists, each with a different perspective on the tale, and I wished to bring it all together.  The Trojan War is a culmination of this effort: spliced together from the words of storytelling masters in order to illuminate the nuances of the full episode.  The myth is so prolific in part because of its absurdity One may wonder how so great a force – in truth, the greatest that the world has ever known – could gather in one place for so slight a cause as Meneleus has: “my wife is bedfellow to Paris, let us slaughter all that live within the walls of this city where they lie.”  It rivals the absurdity of the First World War, where a single definitive cause sets off a disproportionate chain of cataclysmic events.  Indeed, the Trojan War was a World War, where “Many a Greek and Trojan lies side by side in the bloodsoaked mud, indistinguishable by nation, for each side of the conflict has drawn from such diverse allies that each unique uniform seems no less exotic than the other.”  The play covers everything from the wedding feast where “Eris, the trickster goddess of discord, quietly placed a golden apple upon the wedding gifts for all to see, with the message “For the Fairest” carved gracefully on the gilded skin,” through the departure of the Greek fleet at Aulis and onto ten horrible years that end with an empire in ruins.  It has been a monumental task, and now we are sailing home.

Wyatt Weber as Hector

Wyatt Weber as Hector

I must extend my overwhelming thanks to the cast and production team, something I cannot do enough of, for pulling it off. There is a quote attributed to Francis Ford Coppola on the topic of producing his antiwar opus, Apocalypse Now: “It’s not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.”  Similarly, I feel like I can say that our final 2013 production The Trojan War was not about the mythical conflict that has captivated imaginations for millennia; it was the Trojan War.  This is not a statement made out of hubris or self-aggrandizement, as some have misinterpreted Coppola for saying: it means that the process of making this show happen paralleled the irrational tenacity, frequency of malicious divine intervention, and the “world of charge and hell of pains” that befell those who undertook the war that this play dramatizes.  Indeed, in certain circles I have started to refer to The Trojan War as “The Greek Play.”

Jay Donley as Achilles

Jay Donley as Achilles

The role of Thersites, the slave of Homer’s Iliad, clown of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, is also the protagonist of The Trojan War.  As he invokes the power of the goddess Thetis as his Muse, he admits “I am a slave; of that I am not proud, for fortune permits it not.  But I could be a poet, if you helped me.”  He is a crucial role in this play, and he proved to be a revolving door for actors.  Of course, he was written with one of our company members is mind, but that actor notified us months before production meetings even began and he pursued another professional opportunity with my blessing.  Director Jessie Mutz held auditions for several roles, including Thersites, but the actor in the role decided to seek other professional opportunities after rehearsals began.  I tried not to take the matter personally, considering that our actors in this production were volunteering their time and the would-be Thersites abandoned our project for a paying gig.  But the fact remained that we were forced to scrap a rehearsal night to hold emergency auditions.  The next actor in line, who seemed like an excellent choice whom we were genuinely glad to work with, withheld from us the fact that he suffered from a chronic back injury.  After missing several rehearsals throughout the process, his medical issue became dangerous as we entered tech week.  It was decided that we could not offer sales to a show when we could not say with confidence that our lead would be present on any given night.

Bohrs Hoff as Thersites

Bohrs Hoff as Thersites

After much consideration, and with astounding grace and cooperation from our venue at Underground Wonderbar, we decided to scrap the first weekend of the run for rehearsal time, refunded any presales for the first weekend, and threw the playwright into the task of memorizing lines in time for the second and therefore only weekend of the run.  Though there were plenty of logistic issues and time crunches besides, the casting issue and decision that the show must go on was the greatest trial of the production.  The final cast was as follows:

Jay Donley as Achilles
Bohrs Hoff as Thersites
Alexandra Boroff as Thetis/Clytemnestra/Meneleus
Zeke Eastman as Agamemnon/Priam/Margelon
Wyatt Weber as Ulysses/Hector
Charlotte Ostrow as Iphigenia/Paris/Patroclus/Andromache

They all deserve high commendation for their hard work and determination throughout this process, which made a difficult situation so much easier and satisfying in the end.  Additionally, I wish to recognize the hard work of our production team:

Directed by Jessie Mutz
Violence Design by Dave Gonzalez
Stage Management by Michelle Moore

I also want to recognize the help of our poster artist, Vanessa Worth, and photographer C.B. Lindsey, both of whom did excellent work.  Additional thanks must go to Aaron Verbrigghe and Roberta Hoff for assisting with front of house duties at the last minute (I was expecting to function as house manager until I was required to be in the show). I feel that some additional and special recognition is deserved to our stage manager, Michelle Moore, who was like a Jedi Consular to me in this difficult process, putting in extra hours to help me with line memorization as well as personally bolstering my morale as Producer when such difficult decisions had to be made.

Hector attempts to rouse the warrior spirit out of a disguised Achilles

Hector attempts to rouse the warrior spirit out of a disguised Achilles

Again, with all the tribulation of this production, I am intensely proud of what one audience member called “The best show from Blunt Objects Theatre that I’ve seen yet.”  The play is not only about the story of the Trojan War, but the art of storytelling itself.  It certainly saw the most drafts of any originally play I have produced yet, and had a fortunate maturity on the page before we even put it on its feet.  The earliest version of the script was entirely borrowed text, spliced together from Euripedes’ Iphigenia at Aulis, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, and Seneca’s Trojan WomenAfter sharing this draft with our Artistic Director, I finally came around to the suggestion that I should incorporate my own words.  During this second draft, I introduced the character of Thetis, and adapted the clownish Thersites into the poet.  He was no longer the comedic witness to the heroism of Achilles, but the protagonist who wanted to tell the story.  It was in the third draft that I earnestly looked into including non-dramatic material such as Homer’s Iliad, and discovered a Statius poem called The Achilleid, and Ovid’s HeroidesIt was in this third draft that the storyteller found a worthy conflict.  My realization in reading these poems was that Achilles is not noble, he is no hero!  His legacy is Neoptolamus!”  The son of Achilles, Neoptolamus, also known in Virgil’s Aeneid as Pyrrhus, is a crucial figure in the actual fall of Troy, killing King Priam as well as the villain Paris, and yet I excluded him from earlier texts because his existence disabled my thesis that Achilles was the hero of these texts.  As Thetis reveals to Thersites near the end of The Trojan War, Neaptolomus, son of rape, progeny of my Achilles by Deidama, his fellow priestess at Scyros.  For years this boy grew towards adolescence, raised under the direction of his pious grandfather who prized a child in his house possessing divine lineage.  Hated by his mother, abandoned by his father, he festered through the years with warlike study until he joined the Greek fleet on the eve of their siege.”

Alexandra Boroff as Clytemnestra, with Jay Donley as Achilles

Alexandra Boroff as Clytemnestra, with Jay Donley as Achilles

It was revelatory for me as a writer, wanting to tell one story, but having to work against a story that wanted to be told.  This conflict between a storyteller and the will of his creative Muse became the conflict of my protagonist as well.  Perhaps it is fitting that I wound up performing as Thersites in the world premiere of this play.  The inciting words for this creative decision came from the once-revered tongue of Ovid, who suggests in his Heroides that she who gets raped so often, offers herself to rape.”  I discovered the poem in my research, looking for other sources to draw upon in my endeavor to tell the full story of the Trojan War – no single text exists in antiquity which illustrates the full conflict – and discovered some truly vile ideas relegated against Helen, who possesses a powerful absence in this play of The Trojan War.  It was always a deliberate ellipsis, meant to heighten the audience awareness that she lacked any agency in this massive conflict fought in her name.  But to tell the story and elide Neoptolamus, I realized, would unjustly glorify another rapist in the narrative.  Thersites reels from the realization, exclaiming, “Let it not be believed for manhood!  Think, we had fathers.  Do not give advantage to stubborn critics, apt without a theme, to square the general sex by Achilles’ rule.  Rather, think this not Achilles.”  When you look into the mythology preceding the war, rape becomes a common theme: Leda is raped by the god Zeus (disguised as a swan), giving birth to Helen as well as Clytemnestra, who becomes wife to Agamemnon who leads the Greek army; the story surrounding the hero Peleus and how he impregnated Thetis with Achilles also carries connotations of rape.  And then there is the question of Helen herself, when artists throughout history have vacillated on whether she willingly abandoned her husband Meneleus or was raped and abducted by Paris.  However, when Paris speaks in Shakespeare, he admits: I would have the soil of her fair rape Wiped off, in honourable keeping her.”

Charlotte Ostrow as Paris

Charlotte Ostrow as Paris

The play, I suppose, ends in a sense of despair, with the idea of heroism in shambles and the glory of war dissolved.  Standing with the grieving Andromache, wife of the genuinely respected hero Hector, Thersites meekly offers that “This cannot be the end!  My poetry is not yet complete and my words will venture beyond immortality to you and your sons.  Your life will not end like this, your grief will not be in vain.” Indeed, Andromache outlives anyone else involved in this myth cycle.  She is taken from the ruins of Troy as a prize to Neoptolamus, the son of the man who killed and desecrated the body of her husband.  Yet she outlives Neoptolamus, inherits the throne of Epeirus for herself, and ultimately sits in a line of ancestors leading up to Alexander the Great.  But the details of that hope are never mentioned in The Trojan War, and the performance draft ultimately leaves the audience with the task of making sense of why this horrible war was fought.  Perhaps these thoughts are for another play, or another draft.  To be sure, my head is rife with details for another iteration of this play after seeing the text played out onstage.  Yet it remains the strongest text in our company’s repertoire, and for that I am intensely proud.

Zeke Eastman as Agamemnon

Zeke Eastman as Agamemnon

I would like to close these thoughts with something of an anecdote, from the night that we lost our actor for Thersites and we were waiting on the production team to reconvene and decide our intent whether to continue with the show or not.  In desperation, I decided to attend a Frank Turner concert, one that I had withheld from purchasing tickets for because I didn’t think the rehearsal schedule would allow it.  But I found myself there anyways, and after a few songs the artist addressed the audience directly with something to the effect of: “Regular attendees may notice that I usually play the guitar, but I’m not tonight.  The reason for this is that I doctor said I have a chronic back injury and all I needed to do was cancel all the concerts in the tour from now until December.  And I said, ‘Fuck that,’ and now I’m wearing this back support that makes me look like an extra in Rocky Horror, this amazing guitar playing friend of mine was able to learn the entire set in five days, and we’re doing the tour anyways.”  And from there he proceeded to sing lyrics that are characteristic of why I love him as an artist and which stirred my resolve to make the show go on no matter what.  Any doubts I had in myself as an artist to learn all of the lines in under a week to make the production a success were dissolved, and when the production team met the next day I was excited to hear that everyone was determined to proceed.  It was an amazing moment as an artist, to participate in a specific moment that changed my life and was incited by another artist’s work.  There is no way to articulate how that art was so perfect for the moment I was living in, but here is an example of his brilliant artistry:

And the rest, as they sometimes say, is history.  The show went on, and it was spectacular.  Again, I am honored for the opportunity I had to create art with such fine individuals.  So, in the grand tradition of these play reviews, I conclude with one of my favorite lines of the play, where Thersites attempts to invoke the power of his Muse: “You must persist, sweet goddess.  Bring me more words like this!  Smite me sweetly with more mad truths!”

Hector and Achilles battle for the first time, to the delight of Thersites (background)

Hector and Achilles battle for the first time, to the delight of Thersites (background)

Please stay tuned for information about our upcoming season and news about the upcoming restructuring of Blunt Objects Theatre.

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2 Responses to “The Trojan War (2013)”
  1. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article.

    Many thanks for providing this info.

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  1. […] company of old friends and new at one of our favorite watering holes, where we previously produced The Trojan War.  Naturally, the play readings all revolved around the wonderfully spooky ambiance of the October […]



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