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THEATER : Trojan Women, Flamenco Style

June 25, 1995|JANICE ARKATOV | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's Trojan women the way you've never seen them before--skirts swirling, handsclapping, heels tapping--in Deborah Lawlor's 19-character "The Women of Guernica," a flamenco-infused adaptation of Euripides' classic tragedy, updated to 1937 Spain.

"The idea started when I reread 'The Trojan Women,' and I could see flamenco music in it," explains Lawlor, who has been a longtime fan and student of the dance form. "Then I saw Michael Cacoyannis' [1971] film with Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave and Irene Papas. Cacoyannis does with cinematography what I try to do with flamenco: provide a means through which the pain is transformed. Through art, through drama, there's a resolution in the suffering--which you don't have through words."

She believes the nature of the dance form compliments the theatrical text.

"Flamenco is often about pain and tragedy," says Lawlor, whose staging at the Fountain Theatre was financed in part by a grant from Los Angeles' Cultural Affairs Department. "So within the structure of the dance and the music, you have a very inward movement of pain and an outward expression of anger--and the resolution with footwork that often becomes exultant. It is a way that individuals--in this case, women--find to deal with tragic circumstances."

After her initial idea was formed, Lawlor (who co-founded the Fountain Theatre in 1990 with Stephen Sachs and is its producing artistic director) realized she had some serious logistics to consider.

"I knew I had to set it in Spain, but when and where?" she says. Eventually she came up with the Nazi destruction of Guernica in 1937. "These bigwig Nazis are symbols of evil," Lawlor notes, "and they're historical figures. Goering, Goebbels and Himmler are all more familiar to us than Agamemnon, Odysseus and Menelaeus running around in tunics and tights."

In preparation for the writing, Lawlor--who began her career as an actress-dancer-choreographer in New York in the 1960s--traveled to Guernica last winter. "I wanted to find out more about the spirit of the people there," she says. "It's a Basque culture; flamenco is not part of their culture. So in my mind, I made my characters a Spanish Gypsy family that had settled in this village."

"The Women of Guernica" plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. in Hollywood. Closes July 15. Tickets: $17-$20. (213) 663-1525.

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