An array of plastic doll limbs hangs on hooks over the desolate setting of a war camp. The scene is set for the new play iTrojan Barbie/i, now playing at the American Repertory Theatre in Harvard Square.
In iTrojan Barbie/i, writer Christine Evans and director Carmel O'Reilly fail to put a new twist on Euripides' iThe Trojan Women/i, about the suffering women after the fall of Troy. iTrojan Barbie/i uses the same women as Euripides' play, but it also incorporates modern elements into the plot in order to establish a connection between the past and present.
The morose setting of the war camp is immediately interrupted by the entrance of an eccentric modern day dollmaker named Lotte, played by Karen MacDonald, who decides to take a trip to Greece.
While there, she becomes transported back to the time of the Trojan War. The classic Greek myth is then introduced in the form of Queen Hecuba and her daughters mourning after the fall of Troy. The whole story behind iTrojan Barbie/i is that of Lotte's attempts to get back home amidst the chaos of the famous Trojan war.
Queen Hecuba, played by Paula Langton, has lost her husband, her son and her entire city to war.
The significance of the part is lost when Hecuba spends the majority of the play wallowing on the ground and drowning the audience in painful metaphors about the state of her misery.
The tragedy and strength of the women of Troy that Euripides originally depicted becomes diluted in the absurdity of the script of iTrojan Barbie/i.
The beautiful Helen of Troy (Careena Melia) enters with a spotlight and a flourish of music (not to mention a pair of green four-inch heels) before every superficial, self-absorbed monologue, while the prophetess Cassandra (Nina Kassa) prances around talking about her sexual experience with a horse.
This is all supplemented by synchronized poetic monologues and randomly placed dance sequences in a conspicuous attempt to make the play more artistic than it actually is.
Suddenly the audience is reminded of the existence of Lotte, who is assumed to be the protagonist except for the fact that she has almost no part in the advancement of the plot. She wanders around amid the scenes being scared and frightened but never taking any definitive action to move the story forward.
The intolerably na've and clueless dollmaker only serves as an indiscreet representation of the present in the middle of a war from the past. The mass inconsistencies in language and dress and other such anachronisms emphasize the relevance of the past to the present to such an extent that the audience is left wishing merely for a consistent setting in time.
In some distorted way, the overly dramatic language and the collage of dismembered Barbie parts is meant to be used to make a statement about women and war.
In its own vague, disconnected fashion, the play is also meant to denote the inevitability of war, and the strength of the women in those troubled times. Lotte's final monologue about the courage of the women who were forgotten during the fall of Troy only serves as a weak attempt to save a play that is way beyond any form of redemption.
The best that can be said for the show are the good effects and the great use of lighting and sound onstage. Set designer David Reynoso also does nice job setting up the dark war scene.
Other than that, the overly dramatic script, the flimsy, disconnected themes and the weak translation of such tragic historical figures only cause the play to crash and burn as tragically as the fall of Troy.