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May 25, 2022

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Sound system blows away cast of Mee’s ‘Trojan Women 2.0’


What: “Trojan Women 2.0” by Charles Mee

Who: Performed by Atlas Theatre Ensemble

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Jan. 31; 2 p.m. matinee this Saturday only

Where: Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave. No. 16; enter through The Rack, a fetish shop

Admission: $15; 732-7225,

Running time: About 2 1/2 hours

Audience advisory: Staged rape and violence, graphic language, explosions

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The tiny Onyx Theatre has been outfitted with a killer sound system for “Trojan Women 2.0,” an updated adaptation of the Euripides tragedy by playwright Charles Mee. Before the show begins, the 100-seat theater is rocked by explosions and strafing. “Startling” is putting the effect mildly. These booms and bangs might make your fillings hum, if not induce PTSD, and I’m not kidding.

Director Chris Mayse should be lauded for the guts and good intent it took to take on “Trojan Woman 2.0” for his Atlas Theatre Ensemble. But with a few exceptions, his uncertain actors are not nearly up to the challenge of Mee’s freewheeling eclectic and poetic approach. The result is heavy-handed and uneven, dwarfed by the awe-shocks promised by the sound design.

After the big bang comes an ambient crackle and fizz of radio transmission, and we focus on a band of haggard women amid the smoking, scarred, graffiti-scrawled ruins of a city. They could be the shellshocked survivors of any war, anywhere.

As they recount the atrocities they’ve suffered and witnessed, it becomes clear that dethroned queen Hecuba and her Greek chorus are as angry as they are aggrieved.

And bewildered: “Why was this done?” Hecuba demands of the gods and the conquering soldiers, who though they may be the victors, wear the same thousand-yard stares as their victims and comprehend only bestial brutality.

Mee’s stylized, open-source script incorporates texts by survivors of Hiroshima and of the Holocaust, and by such disparate voices as Georges Bataille, the Kama Sutra, Amy Vanderbilt and Geraldo Rivera. The script also calls for characters to frequently break into retro and contemporary pop songs, and this proves nearly insurmountable for the Atlas actors and the audience. Mayse, the director, has trimmed back many of Mee’s musical interpolations, but again, with two or three notable exceptions in the second act, singing is beyond the overstretched capabilities of his cast.

Where Mayse and his actors succeed is in making explicit the eternal ironies of warfare and the parallels with America’s ongoing misadventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. And here and there they find glinting shards of humor and hope amid the horror and nihilism.

But it remains a challenge for them, as it will be for any adventurous theatergoer who voluntarily takes the journey to fallen Troy along with them.

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