After three long years of careful planning, several months of casting and intense rehearsals, audience members were able to witness James Darrah’s visions take shape on stage during the production of his senior thesis, “The Trojan Women.” The production was presented to an overwhelming turnout in the University of La Verne’s Cabaret Theatre last weekend.
“It is somewhat frightening to see three years of thought, images, opinions and design come to life as tangible theater,” Darrah, a double major in theatre and music, said in his program notes.
In James Darrah’s senior thesis, “The Trojan Women,” which ran from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, Helen of Troy (Nicki Jo Brandt) tries to convince Menelaus (Elí Hernandez) she has always wanted to be with him and he shouldn’t just cast her away. Despite Helen’s seduction attempts, Menelaus still rejects her.
Samantha Chung, a theater major who played Cassandra, first introduced Edith Hamilton’s translation of Euripides’ tragic epic “The Trojan Women” to Darrah during his freshman year at ULV.
Hamilton’s script instantly struck a chord in Darrah, a self-proclaimed fanatic of Greek mythology, and he rendered Hamilton’s translation to fit his expectations for the play.
“The Trojan Women” emphasizes the pain and sorrow wrought on women and children after the full onslaught of war.
The play begins in the heartbreaking aftermath of the Trojan War; the women of Troy have lost their husbands, children and homes, and are each faced with a bitter destiny of enslavement by the Greeks.
The play speaks to all who have lost hope, been betrayed by love, suffered the repercussions of war, questioned their faith and/or contemplated death over life.
“I think the overall message of the play varies from person to person,” Darrah said. “It contains so many themes that it really becomes a combination, a message based on personal experience and emotional connection to the material.”
“I believe that the message of the play is that we, as a society should hold on to what we believe in, and cherish every moment in life,” said Sarah Morales, a ULV alumna who played Athena.
“The Trojan Women” stressed anti-war sentiment and demonstrated the tragic effects of war on everyone involved, even the victors.
“The most obvious message of the play is anti-war, but it goes much deeper than that,” said Christopher Smith, a theater major, who played Talthybius and Poseidon. “We (first) see the play from the loser’s perspective, but by bringing in Talthybius and Menelaus’ characters, we are able to see the play from the winner’s perspective; we see that they have not really won, and that war is a lose/lose situation.”
The actresses behind the play gave accurate and sincere portrayals of women faced with the ambiguity of undetermined futures. They became one with their roles, seemingly immersing the audience in the midst of pain, loss and utter despair.
Jane Dibbell, professor of theater, gave a poignant performance in her starring role as Hecuba, Queen of Troy.
Dibbell said she never expected to play such a significant role in the production of Darrah’s thesis.
“James first presented a proposal to do this project when he was a freshman,” Dibbell said. “I was so moved by the presentation that I volunteered to be part of it, really only expecting to help produce it in some way. Two years later, James asked if I would play the role of Hecuba.”
Although the women in the play lose everything meaningful in their lives, their courageous spirits never falter, conveying womanly strength and an unspoken message of hope to the audience.
Stephanie Barraco, who played Andromache, effortlessly dug inside herself to portray a woman stricken with grief and despondency.
After her son was torn from her motherly embrace, she seemingly lost her last strand of hope and exited the stage in sobs, submerging the audience in the depth of her agony.
Smith also gave a touching performance as Talthybius, a Greek messenger, seemingly portraying the only Greek in the play with a heart.
Chung captivated the audience through her portrayal of Cassandra, a character seemingly lost within the inner ?workings of her own mind, as she easily moved from various emotional states from one minute to the next.
The set design of the play was simple in nature but emulated the complex destruction of war, as the vibrantly red world of the Trojans quickly turned to gray. Darrah used gray paint in the set to symbolize the Greeks’ hostile takeover of Troy.
“The Greeks, cold and gray, are in the process of destroying and, more importantly, covering the color and beauty of the Trojans,” Darrah said in his program notes.
Darrah credited Steven Kent, his faculty mentor and director of theater, for helping him to cope with the physical, emotional and mental aspects of the directorial process and attributed his cast and crew to the play’s success.
“The actors were incredibly patient during rehearsals, because I had such specific ideas about characters and scenes,” Darrah said. “Directing allowed me to work closely with a talented group of people. It helped translate a lot of ideas into an actual theatrical experience.”
Darrah’s cast praised his directorial skills as well.
“James is a very focused, determined, and brilliant director,” Morales said. “I believe that it is his aim to make the process of constructing a play an enjoyable one for all involved.”
An encore performance will be held on Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Cabaret Theatre.
Jessica Bell can be reached at email@example.com.