Guess who drank all their Chun Mei tea before they took the picture?
As it turns out, I lied on my schedule. Neither Judas nor Divine Nature was something I wanted to review on this blog. Saying so might count as an anti-recommendation, a negative review in miniature, so you get a triple whammy today.
After Troy, however, is something worth more.
HECUBA: …Troy, Troy
we must sing you as you are, so, one morning,
my fatherless poor son
forlorn on a grey sea,
he blinks and blinks again,
for there fall two drops of light,
a jewel of pink on both his eyes, it’s dawn
anointing the far towers of his birthplace!
After Troy is what it sounds like: a dramatization of the aftermath of the Greeks’ triumph in the Trojan War. According to Goodreads and Hoopla, it’s a retelling of Euripides’s Women Of Troy and Hecuba. I haven’t read these plays (for shame), so I can’t tell how Maxwell adapts them – loosely, faithfully, emotively, whatever. I can, however, say that After Troy was just as melancholy and at times gut-wrenching as I’d hoped it would be.
As one might expect from the source myth and material, the main figures are Hecuba, Andromache, Polyxena, and Cassandra, locked together as disgraced prisoners despite their royal status. There’s also Agamemnon – whose dialogue, in my humble opinion, was the best, though I still can’t stand the man – a Greek soldier, and Agamemnon’s scribe Talthybius. The story involves faith or lack thereof in the gods, who the gods actually support (if anyone), the treatment of the losing side in a war, and – again, in my humble opinion – the lengths people will go to in order to keep their dignity as human beings.
Agamemnon might have the best dialogue – Maxwell writes with a deft understanding of where to include proper punctuation and where to leave it out for the most lifelike intonations of speech, and Agamemnon’s gruff, exasperated, borderline desperate words come through so you can almost hear them in your head. But he’s not the strongest character. That honor goes to the four principle women, all suffering in their own ways, all struggling to come to grips with their own personal tragedy. Hecuba clings to the hope of her last surviving son, Palidorus, fiercely protecting her vision of Troy restored; Andromache is bitter and angry, following her mother-in-law’s attempts to keep Troy alive through song but really only hanging on for Astyanax; Polyxena is, perversely, still in love with Achilles and seems to believe he’ll rescue her (poor thing); and Cassandra is… well, Cassandra, a world-weary, sardonic lunatic who fights back at Agamemnon when she can and occasionally even sees the audience watching her. They’re all wonderfully written, each unique and compelling. I found Andromache’s heartsick fury to be the most interesting, but each woman is worthy of respect and sympathetic grief.
HECUBA: Your child is safe.
He of Knowledge told me.
ANDROMACHE: Did he really.
Can She of Mercy let me see his face?
HECUBA: I shall ask her when I see her.
ANDROMACHE: Would you do that?
Good, because the gods who I’ve been begging
are She of the Folded Arms and He of Grinning.
It’s a relatively short play – 93 pages on the Hoopla ebook. Time passes as the Greeks wait for a wind to take them back home (and do the Trojan women take it out on Agamemnon by reminding him of Iphigenia) but not that much time. Like The Iliad, After Troy seems to take place at the end a long period of stalling and spinning of wheels. The audience sees the end result of the Trojan women’s efforts at remembering Troy, at somehow staying Trojan despite everything, mourning their enormous loss by memorizing what it was before. It seems strange at first, the songs and dances that Hecuba and her daughters execute, but after a while their effectiveness becomes apparent when – as is customary in tragedies – the Trojan women start dropping off, leaving Hecuba to her increasing desperation and broken-heartedness. It’s sad enough that Troy has been razed, but the real tragedy is in the loss of Troy’s people, in their subjugation and dehumanization and even (in Polyxena’s case) in their own surrender to the Greeks.
It’s not an uplifting play. But it’s an intensely empathetic, strangely compassionate one, showing the humanity (even Agamemnon’s) in the inhumanity of war.
CASSANDRA: In the cool shade in a lemon grove
White butterflies on a holy day
White butterflies in a lemon grove
In the cool shade
HECUBA: Thou of Mercy spare my son.
ANDROMACHE: Thou of Mercy spare mine first,
me please, me please, me please,
change the world to my world.
Due to strong language (Agamemnon is fond of the f-bomb) and some dialogue concerning sexual abuse, I wouldn’t recommend After Troy to everyone. If one can handle that intensity, however, it’s worth the effort – as long as one doesn’t mind being heartbroken over the Trojan War again. Personally, I’m always heartbroken over the Trojan War, and this play still kicked me in the heart.
But definitely in a good way.