Anne Bogart and SITI experiment with Euripides at Getty Villa
Anne Bogart launched SITI Company in 1992 as an outlet for her experimental approaches to stage directing and actor training. The adaptation of Euripides’ ancient tragedy, “The Trojan Women,” which begins previews at the Getty Villa’s outdoor amphitheater on Thursday before opening Sept. 8, will be the first production the New York-based SITI has premiered in Los Angeles.
Read here about why Bogart thinks now is a ripe time to revive “The Trojan Women” for American audiences.
A key theme for Bogart and SITI has been providing a counterbalance to Method acting, a prevalent strategy for American actors that calls for probing their own experiences to extract a kernel of feeling from which they can try to create a persuasive portrayal of what their characters undergo.
“The Trojan Women” is about the utter devastation that Queen Hecuba and the remnants of her royal house face in the wake of the fall of Troy chronicled in the Homeric epics. If there were such a thing as Method directing-– and if Bogart subscribed to it -– she’d be well positioned to draw on painful feelings remembered from a disaster she endured two years before she and the Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki founded SITI Company.
Bogart had led Trinity Repertory Company, the major regional stage in Providence, R.I., for just one season when she was ousted by a board that blamed her for falling attendance. Bogart acknowledged at the time that her first-season play choices had been too dark and heavy, but she felt she was on the way to setting things back on course, announcing an attractive second season that she never got to present.
Bogart laughed during a recent interview at the Getty Villa, when asked whether she’d thought of drawing on that episode to direct Euripides’ vision of pain and woe after a great fall.
“Oh God, I didn’t think of that,” she said. “I was completely laid out. I was devastated. But I’m not thinking 'Im going to take this feeling of having been through a debacle in Providence, and use it.’”
While there’s no rescue or redemption for the characters in “The Trojan Women,” Bogart certainly bounced back. Among the plays she’d penciled in for her second season at Trinity Rep was the premiere of “The Baltimore Waltz” by Paula Vogel. Instead, director and playwright gave the AIDS-themed drama an acclaimed off-Broadway premiere that helped stoke not only Vogel's playwriting career but those of costars Cherry Jones and Joe Mantello. Bogart, Vogel and Jones won Obie Awards.
The Getty’s revival of “The Trojan Women” is not a swords-and-sandals period piece. The conquering Greeks will be in business suits or contemporary military garb. For those wanting to check out the play with ancient atmospherics intact, there's the 1972 film version by Michael Cacoyannis, the “Zorba the Greek” director who died last month. The cast is beyond star-studded.
Katharine Hepburn is Hecuba; Genevieve Bujold plays her mad daughter, Cassandra; and Vanessa Redgrave and Irene Papas appear, respectively, as the Queen's daughters-in-law, Andromache and Helen. Redgrave contributes a long wail of symphonic magnitude at the moment when she learns the Greeks will kill her young son.
Bogart says she finds the film "a little screamy." In her concept, "these are highly educated women, bright and sophisticated, who talk to the best of their ability about how to go on after a disaster."
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Anne Bogart directs SITI Company's Ellen Lauren, center, in a rehearsal for "The Trojan Women" at the Getty Villa. Credit: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times