'Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus' by Gillian Clark
An immersive theatre experience from OUTSIDE THE MARCH and FACTORY THEATRE in association with NEWORLD THEATRE
Amy Keating as Ned. Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh
Hearty stamina in this energetic ensemble
At 3 hours and 10 minutes running time, I’ll call ‘Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus’ an epic.
I’ve never been a Greek mythology enthusiast. Yes, I know, an English Language and Literature major who has no background in Greek mythology. Don’t remind me because I’m aware of this fact, but I just never developed an interest. For those who do, I’m sure you’ll love the licence that has been taken in the re-telling of the lives of the characters. Playwright Gillian Clark even acknowledges this play is not a perfect Ancient Greece or Grease adaptation in the Programme Note.
When Greek stories are told cleverly to maintain my interest, I’m all in with the hope I may learn something. At least, that’s what I was hoping for here.
With very little knowledge about these Greek characters, off I went to be transported to another world.
Upon arrival at Factory Theatre, the audience is divided into two groups with two plays performed simultaneously by this same group of actors. Half gather outdoors around the campfire (this is where I began) and the other half enters the Duck n’ Swing Hall inside the Studio Theatre. At the intermission, the audience switches and experiences the other side of the story. The time is August 2009, the place, New Troy, Canada. Time appears to stop in both worlds where these characters collide. There are connections to the film and stage versions of GREASE, THE MUSICAL. (Notice the homonym connection.) At the conclusion, all attendees gather inside the Studio Theatre.
Odysseus (Jeff Yung) is planning an Evel Knievel motorbike Prom-posal. (I’ve been retired from teaching now for five years and thought prom-posals were finished. Was I ever surprised they’re still popular). Nestra (Katherine Cullen) and King Memnon (Sebastien Heins) rendezvous in the Outhouse for some summer lovin’. (This I found rather odd – summer lovin’ in an outhouse? Well, it got my attention) while Cassandra (Amy Keating) noshes on raw hot dogs (Ewwwww!) while sooth-sayin’ the world’s destruction.
Along with these plot elements listed above, the audience sees the heartache, trauma and a sense of loss pervading the lives of the other characters.
Sebastien Heins is a suavely sexy Menelaus/King Memnon. I loved Amy Keating’s portrayal of old guy ‘Ned’ who sells 50-50 tickets. Even those moments when the scraggly beard didn’t fit properly across her face, Keating naturally re-fitted it and believably made it a part of Ned’s odd nature. Jeff Yung becomes a cocky self-assured Odysseus. Katherine Cullen’s perfectly nailed the valley girl Helen (yes, my age is showing) with aplomb. Liz Der and Elena Reyes’ created strong, feisty women who are most definitely not to be messed with attitudes. Cheyenne Scott is a scrappy Penelope on many levels.
‘Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus’ remains a visually visceral production with its strength in the keenly focused ensemble work so I will credit Director Mitchell Cushman here. For one, I applaud the hearty stamina and energy as the ensemble moves back and forth from outdoors to indoors in mere seconds sometimes with quick costume changes. We were told at the beginning that sometimes an actor may not make his/her/their cue because everything is timed beautifully. Part of the fun is counting down how many seconds it takes before the actor comes racing onto the scene to continue the story. Whether it was intended or not, there were at least two ‘miscues’ where we started to cut down until the actor entered.
Anahita Dehbonehie’s outdoor set design becomes eye candy of that dreaded sense the world is about to end. There’s fencing surrounding the perimeter which contains graffiti of all kinds written on the burlap. The playing space appears to be charred grounds as if the area was once on fire. There are remnants of objects from long ago – an old bathtub and a circular fire pit are just two items. I loved how the Bathurst Street siding of the Factory Theatre was used to its fullest. It’s a three-story building with lots of stairs to climb and windows to open. What worked nicely for me was watching Jeff Yung prepare for his ‘motor bike’ to jump out of the window.
I’d like to give credit to Michael Laird’s Audio System Design for the use of headsets outside. What a good idea for the audience to wear them because I could hear the dialogue.. The outside traffic noise did not disturb me in the slightest. After the intermission, my group was led into the Studio Theatre of Factory where it appears we have entered the dilapidated bar of the Duck n Swing Hall resplendent in toilet paper strung ceremoniously along the walls and atop of the overhead lighting.
On the stage was the Outhouse of Atrea where the characters go to make decisions of all kinds. I laughed out loud at one point because one of the characters slides to the floor and sits there for a few moments talking to someone ‘on the throne’. Just the thought of sitting on any outhouse floor makes me shudder and laugh trying to wipe that image from my brain.
But some choices made puzzled me.
For one, the shouting and yelling in actor enthusiasm led to problematic enunciation issues for me. Merlin Simard as Thalthybius and Hermes provided a great deal of comic relief and the occasional pearly words of wisdom, but I lost a lot of their dialogue because I couldn’t hear them. I have a working knowledge of the French language and was looking forward to hearing the language spoken, but I didn’t catch a single thought. That was a tad disappointing because I wanted to hear what Simard had to say. Hopefully, they will be mindful as performances continue.
Factory Theatre emailed to let me know smoke will be used throughout the performance. Okay, so I was aware; however, the smoke became overpowering for me from my seat to the point where I started coughing and felt as if I couldn’t breathe. Future audiences, please be aware, and if you do have breathing issues of any kind it would be a good idea to let the front-of-house staff know upon your arrival. Another question I also jotted down in my notes – what is the point of having all that smoke if it makes audiences uncomfortable especially if one is also caught in the crosswind of the firepit centre stage?
Ultimately, I’m still puzzled by the running time of three hours for the production. Too long. Could this have been pared down say to two hours maximum with an intermission? I was in overload and couldn't receive any more information.
Running time is approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
The production runs to August 28 and plays both indoors and outdoors at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. For tickets, call 416-504-9971 or visit factorytheatre.ca for more information.
TROJAN GIRLS & THE OUTHOUSE OF ATREUS by Gillian Clark
An immersive theatre experience from Outside the March and Factory Theatre in association with Neworld Theatre
Producer: Mark Aikman
Director: Mitchell Cushman
Set Design: Anahita Dehbonehie
Costume Design: Nick Blais
Lighting Design: Jareth Li
Sound Design: Heidi Chan
Audio System Design: Michael Lairs
Stage Manager: Daniel Oulton
(plus many other names listed in the program)
Performers: Katherine Cullen, Liz Der, Sebastien Heins, Amy Keating, Elena Reyes, Cheyenne Scott, Merlin Simard, Jeff Yung