Trials of “Our Trojan War”

I don’t like arriving at the theater late or leaving early; I know from personal experience that it’s disruptive. I faced great discomfort at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when I snuck into a performance already in progress of Aquila Theatre’s production of “Our Trojan War”. Unfortunately, it couldn’t be helped—I had endured over an hour of traffic on the New England Thruway before crossing the Whitestone Bridge en route to Brooklyn. Fortunately, the ushers at BAM were gracious and allowed me to enter the auditorium.

I was lucky to see “Our Trojan War” as part of a field trip organized by Professor Nina Papathanasopoulou of the Classics Department. The play uses the setting of a raid by American soldiers on a home in a remote Middle Eastern village to draw parallels between the Greek classics and contemporary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The home contains a mysterious collection of some of the great works of the ancient Greek, and indeed Western, world. A character in the play later notes that some Greek texts only survived because Medieval Islamic scholars translated them into Arabic. The discovery turns the play’s search from a raid of a house to a search for parallels between the actions of the Greeks in the Trojan War and Americans in the Middle East.

The play was created with input from members of Warrior Chorus, “a national initiative that trains veterans to present innovative public programs to Americans based on classical literature.” Several of the cast members were veterans, and one could sense through their performances the influence of their experiences overseas. One of the more powerful stories that was shared was a reworking of the Odysseus-Circe myth from Circe’s perspective. In this story Odysseus and his men are reenvisioned as lost soldiers, unable to return home because they’d grown too accustomed to being in a state of war. Circe claims she turned the soldiers into swine in order to give them needed rest and help them forget their troubled past. In a talkback following the performance, actress and former US Air Force journalist and combat videographer Adrienne Brammer, who portrayed Circe, explained that the reinterpreted story had its roots in the current opioid crisis, which affects many veterans.

We were also able to engage in conversation with Aquila Theatre founder Peter Meineck who adapted the texts for the production. Meineck had previously given a lecture on campus in Fall 2015 during which he discussed his work with veterans. Given the nature of “Our Trojan War” as a piece devised by veterans collaborating with Meineck, I asked him whether the election has encouraged performers to react by creating their own works of theater. I was thinking back to the concluding piece of this year’s WE Initiative show “She Is a Tempest,” which was created by its performers as well as other discussions I’ve been privy to among various campus performing arts groups about the possibility of producing pieces created by their performers next season. Meineck pointed out to me that the great controversies of the election are something we all need to react to and encouraged me to produce something that can represent what I stand for.

What I enjoyed most about “Our Trojan War” was that it gave me and others in the audience who aren’t aware of the issues that confront veterans a chance to understand what it means to have served our country, and why we need to honor and support the soldiers in our land. There is a great difference between the large amount of support we give to people who we send long distances to fight for us overseas and the disappearance of those support structures when they return home, a disconnect that “Our Trojan War” highlights.

While I certainly can’t compare my own experiences to the brutality of serving in a war zone, I see an interesting parallel between taking a long journey on a bus with terrible suspension along I-95, which is hands down the worst part of the Connecticut shoreline, and seeing a play about people who journey to fight in foreign lands far from home.