Writ of Habeas Corpus: Christine Evans's Trojan Barbie

By Scanlan, Robert | TheatreForum, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Writ of Habeas Corpus: Christine Evans's Trojan Barbie


Scanlan, Robert, TheatreForum


Christine Evans' work is attracting attention wherever it is seen, and her influence as a strong and insistent voice in new playwriting is growing exponentially. Her plays never leave you alone. Once seen (or even read) their hold on an awakened imagination is persistent and unshakable. Trojan Barbie is a powerful recent script, and it fits into an emerging quiltwork of serious and deep plays that, collectively, are already gathering the awesome strength of an oeuvre. Christine herself has stated that one of her artistic objectives is projecting "a dream with a hard core of truth inside it." Her steady productivity has won her loyal admirers, and she serves as an exemplar and inspiration to younger writers who study playwriting with her.

Her characteristic locus (the setting of her plays) is a liminal space, a tough hard "in-between" domain of the moral imagination where urgent contemporary cultural work needs to be done. An earlier play of hers, set in an immigrant detention center in her native Australia (Slow Falling Bird), provides an image of lasting value in understanding all her work to date. In that play, a child hesitates to be born, balking at incarnation into the world the rest of us have prepared for it. In Trojan Barbie, a haunting inversion of this poetic figure takes the form of dead souls (Euripides' captive Trojan women) who cannot leave a place of outrage and grief. Wherever Ms. Evans' sbold poetic dramaturgy takes us-a desolate beach (All Souls' Day), the concrete limbo of an urban highway underpass (Pussy Boy), or-and this is a recurring "place" for her drama-a dread-filled "camp" or refuge collection center in a war zone (Mothergun, Trojan Barbie)-the steady traffic between the living and the dead, the present sufferers and the incipient souls of our future, occupies her mind and ours. Christine's recent work turns the stage into a sort of psychic processing center. Within that space her characteristic procedure is a fearless forward-writing, a steady unflinching advance into states of soul where instinctive recoil usually prevails over facing hard facts head on. Christine Evans' great gift is her steady, evenhanded ability to explore rationally without panic or revulsion, the awful consequences of inflicted suffering.

Given the shock of the daily brutalities of our world, it is almost a vacation of the mind to jump-cut to the Trojan War, so comfortably familiar to us from our long bookshelves of Classics. Homer's two great epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, lay down the basic material of the Trojan legend, and these versions date roughly from the ninth century before the Common Era (BCE). Even in their own time, these great Homeric poems were treating of long-past events. Modern archaeology at the site of ancient Troy sets the reality of the original Trojan War at around 1200 BCE. So by the time our ancient Greek tragic playwrights (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides) were handling these tales in "fifth-century" Athens, they were harking back to events already seven centuries in the past. We recall these same events with two and a half thousand more years between us and, say, Euripides' Trojan Women.

Trojan Barbie began, in Christine' s mind, when she was asked to turn her attention to Euripidess Trojan Women. Here she found a kindred spirit: a playwright and poet who reawakened his public's consciousness to the "in-between" victims-chiefly women and children-of a devastating war. Euripides' play features those caught between two states, transitioning from "normality" and peace to a new status as brutalized prisoners of war and enslaved human chattel. Strikingly his play shifted public attention in 415 BCE from the heroics of victorious warriors to the shameful maltreatment of their brutalized victims. Euripides forced an accounting which the heroic tradition was not used to providing. His play was like a writ of habeas corpus: a demand that the bodies be produced and that they be accounted for. …

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