Through Sunday, Nov. 24

Durham Friends Meeting/Chapel Hill Friends Meeting

There’s an acid test for those who claim to love Greek tragedy: Ask them about The Trojan Women.

Euripides’s unhurried, unsparing account of conquerors and the conquered has challenged artists and audiences for more than two millennia because it fundamentally outstrips both theatrical and actual definitions of the tragic. All too accurately, it depicts the grinding tedium, unrelieved misery, and soul-killing bureaucracy of “conquest seen when the thrill of battle is over,” in translator Gilbert Murray’s words.

At the outset, Troy’s women have already been flattened by the total destruction of their families and their city, reduced to chattel to be divvied up among the spoils of war. Still, the war machine will take even more away from them as further atrocities unfold, one after another.

That slowly crushing reality makes The Trojan Women a staging challenge on par with Shakespeare’s King Lear. Because actors and director are all charting an abyss within an abyss, range and dramatic depth perception are crucial. If an individual performance (or even worse, a production) hits its maximum emotional dynamic while negotiating the horrors of the first twenty minutes, then more than an hour remains before anyone’s returning to the surface.

If emerging director Bobby Callaway doesn’t entirely solve that problem in this Bare Theatre production, which is running at two Quaker Houses in Durham and Chapel Hill to benefit Quaker House of Fayetteville—well, I’ve yet to see a production that does.

Arin Dickson delivers a strong, nuanced showing as the deposed queen, Hecuba, alongside an empathetic chorus (Laura Griffin, Emily Yates, and newcomer Megan Kessinger).

Comic leavening comes from Rosemary Richards’s cameo as an absurd military travel guide, Lu Meeks’s buttery take on Helen of Troy, and Doug Kapp’s chilly response as the man who caused all this suffering: her cuckolded Menelaus.

Candace Hescock’s enviably authentic character notes countered her limited range as Andromache, and Nicholas Tycho Reed was a forceful, lupine, yet one-note Ajax.

But Callaway and actor Victoria Bender never decrypt the goddess Athena’s relationships with Richards’s mercurial Cassandra or anyone else. That and other production gaffes—skeletal, fluorescent stage lighting in Chapel Hill and a yawning lighting operator seated on stage in Durham—speak to an ambitious production that is sometimes clearly out of its depth.