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Theater Review : 'Women of Guernica' Adds Nazis, Flamenco to Euripides


It's been a banner week for Euripides, sort of. Not one, but two updated and musicalized versions of his tragedy, "The Trojan Women," opened in Los Angeles. What are the odds of that? The first takes place in a lagoon at CBS Studio Center and has a pop/gospel score for the Trojan woman chorus. The second, retitled "The Women of Guernica" at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, employs flamenco dancing as an expression of female power, as a way for defeated women to rise above suffering.

In fact, this production, adapted and directed by Deborah Lawlor, is one big quivering mass of female suffering. As the title says, it is set in Guernica, just after the Nazi bombing of the city. The women have lost everything. There is a lot of moaning. Teeth gnashing. Mascara running. When the Nazis arrive, the women show their defiance by engaging in a thunderous flamenco. The Nazis don't find this off-putting in the least. In fact, they like it. The dancing is good. The acting is not.

The problems presented by this particular updating of Euripides are too numerous to list. But here are a couple. In the original, Cassandra, daughter of the Trojan King, goes as a war prize to a Greek hero: Agamemnon. In this version, Cassandra is a ragged but sexy nun (Melba Tirado) whom Hermann Goering has claimed. Would the Germans really take the trouble to fly a Spanish nun to Berlin to become, in the words of a chorus member, "a plaything of those Nazis"?

There is much more wailing before Menaleus, or in this case Heinrich Himmler (Steve Brady), arrives. He has come for his Helen, here called Elena (Linda Andrade). Apparently, the Nazis have called out the Luftwaffe because Elena ran off to Spain with someone named Paco. And Himmler felt emasculated. "We will show that Paco who's got the balls!" he says.

Elena flamenco dances her way back into Himmler's affection. The other women spit and howl and call her hussy. There is a dance contest between Elena and the women. As far as I can tell, Elena wins.

Lawlor's production is a showcase for these women to suffer nobly and to denounce the warring nature of man. And to dance, which provides some relief from the moaning. So does the lovely music and onstage guitar playing of Adam del Monte.

When Himmler takes his first stroll through the women of Guernica, he aims his gun at one of them. In that callous Nazi way of his, he asks, "Should I shoot her?" He turns to another. "Or her?" One woman bravely spits in his face. He wipes off the spit but doesn't shoot her. I wanted to be of some help at this point. "Me," I thought. "Shoot me."

* "The Women of Guernica," Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 15. $17-$20. (213) 663-1525. Running time: 2 hours.

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