Anna Deavere Smith, Anne Washburn, Anne Kauffman, Aurélia Thiérrée, Victoria Chaplin – you may already have noticed that the season is dominated by women writers and directors. That pattern continues with Trojan Barbie, a new play by Christine Evans, which Carmel O’Reilly will stage in Zero Arrow Theatre. I’m thrilled by this prevalence of female artists, though it wasn’t a deliberate choice on my part – rather it reflects a welcome change in the landscape of the American theatre, where many of the new generation of first-rate artists are women.
Christine is originally from Australia, though she now lives in Providence, where she was a student in Paula Vogel’s graduate playwriting program at Brown. She is now teaching creative writing at Harvard, where I met her, and indeed where she and I will be co-teaching an advanced playwriting workshop in the spring. Christine gave me Trojan Barbie to read and I immediately loved it.
Christine calls Trojan Barbie “a modern car-crash encounter with Euripides’ Trojan Women.” It tells the story of Lotte Jones, a lonely middle-aged doll repair expert, who books herself on a “cultural holiday for singles” to Turkey. But when she arrives on vacation, something mysterious happens; rather than finding herself in the contemporary Middle East, Lotte has somehow landed in an ancient war zone – among the ruins of Troy, during the last days of the Trojan War, as the royal family of Priam is being extinguished by the Greek forces of Meneleus.
Trojan Barbie tells a gripping story with a cast of mighty characters including Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Andromache, and a truly hilarious Helen of Troy. For me, though, the beauty of Christine’s play is that it holds past and present in perfect balance, allowing each to reflect off the other. We’re not sure if Lotte traveled back in time, or if the inhabitants of that Trojan detention camp have somehow arrived in the present world – and that ambiguity is ingeniously held throughout Trojan Barbie. Like Trojan Women on which it is based, this is a political play because it handles the suffering inflicted by war and revenge, but it is never didactic or polemical – indeed it is full of great life and humor as well as tragedy. I’m honored that we’re producing the world premiere of this surprising and moving play.