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The Trojan Women

Very cool images. But Arabian apparently spent so much time thinking them up that he failed to pay attention to such minor elements as, say, acting.

Very cool images. But Arabian apparently spent so much time thinking them up that he failed to pay attention to such minor elements as, say, acting.

With one exception his leads were all floundering opening night. There are widly different styles of acting, none connecting with the others in any meaningful way.

Only vet actress Angela Paton, as an angry and recognizably regal Hecuba, brings any emotional reality to her performance. The other performances consist mainly of posturing — or, in the case of James Harper’s Menelaus, playing for innapropriate laughs.

One can only guess what Mariette Hartley is going after, with her jerky, animatronic-style movements as Andromache. Whatever it is, it doesn’t work. Like most of her colleagues, she seems to be striving for effect, not living the role.

The chorus of Trojan women sing most of their lines. This approach can be highly effective, as those who saw American Conservatory Theatre’s recent production of “Hecuba” in San Francisco with Olympia Dukakis can attest.

Unfortunately, Mimi Seton’s prosaic lyrics and banal pop/folk/gospel melodies seem sadly out of place, and kill whatever dramatic momentum the production builds.

A subtle lighting design was probably impossible, given the circumstances; in any event, J. Kent Inasy does not provide one. Betty Berberian’s costumes are appropriately subdued, with black and burgundy the primary colors. Airplanes and helicopters fly overhead periodically, drowning out the actors. This isn’t as annoying as expected, since one can imagine they are military aircraft, and therefore a part of the show. For unexplained reasons, Arabian has placed the prologue at the end of the play. This is an unwitting symbol of the backwards nature of his production, in which the play gets lost and the site is the star.

The Trojan Women

(CBS Studio Center, Studio City; 99 seats; $ 25 top)

Production: Theater InSite presents Euripides' tragedy, adapted and directed by Michael Arabian; producer, Suzanne Battaglia; music and lyrics, Mimi Seton; additional music, Wesley A. Nagy; musical director, Thomas Griep; choreography, Holly Harbinger; fight director, Stuart Rogers; art director, Cara Hoepner; lighting, J. Kent Inasy; sound design, Bob Blackburn; costumes, Betty Berberian. Opened, reviewed June 10, 1995; runs through July 2. Running time, 1 hour, 55 min. Hecuba ... Angela Paton Andromache ... Mariette Hartley Menelaus ... James Harper Helen ... Valerie Wildman Talthybius ... Adam Lazarre-White Poseidon ... Michael McFall Athena ... Cindy Cheung Cassandra ... Blanca Marsillach Astyanax ... Klee G. Bragger #With: Megan McGinnis, Evelyn Halus, Catrina Honadle, Regan DuCasse, Ali B. Olmo, Roxanne Mayweather, Dee Noah, Charmaine Alicia Mancil, Sean Magee, G. Adam Gifford, Will Schaub, Tony Filippone, Jesse Lopez, Bobby Garcia, Ezekial Garcia, Jesus Alvarado. Doing theater in alternative locations has its dangers; one of them is the director being seduced by his site. This appears to have happened to Michael Arabian, whose staging of "The Trojan Women" is playing on the back lot of CBS Studio Center in Studio City. Arabian has found a great spot to tell his story: the artificial lagoon where "Gilligan's Island" was filmed. With a sandy beach in front of it, and a dilapidated wooden building behind it (complete with water wheel), it provides a clever director lots of possibilities for striking entrances and exits. Thus, as the grieving widows of defeated Troy mourn their fate on the beach, four Greek soldiers wearing wet suits approach them by wading through the lagoon. A Greek general later arrives in a Hummvee -- a military vehicle that is operable on both land and water. When one character dies, his body is put on a small vessel, and the funeral pyre floats away.

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