Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus, presented by Factory Theatre and Outside the March, is a wild ride. There were times I felt a little lost, wondered if a more solid handle on the old Greek myths might have helped. This sense of being slightly mystified, my grasp of the situation precarious, was an uncomfortable yet thrilling aspect of this intense experience.
Like the old classics, Gillian Clark’s intimate epic brings mortals and gods together, has them inhabit the same spaces, enflamed by the same fiery passions. Set in New Troy, Canada, in the summer of 2009, the story is fraught with depressingly familiar, small-town politics and tensions. Middle-aged parents have passed their neuroses down to their children while mystic forces meddle with the whole lot. It all comes to a head during a gaudy town event—the Duck n’ Swing dance.
On this night, a young woman, Penelope (Cheyenne Scott), is about to leave behind prom-posals and schoolwork and enter the world of grown-ups. She’s burdened though, marked for a communal fate by the irresponsible, reckless adults she’s about to join.
The rest of the ensemble cast—Katherine Cullen (Helen/Nestra), Liz Der (Hecuba/Penthesilea), Sébastien Heins (Menelaus/King Memnon), Amy Keating (Cassandra/Ned), Elena Reyes (Andromache/Elektra), Merlin Simard (Thal/Hermes) Jeff Yung (Odysseus/Orestes)—does double duty as the teenagers gathered round a bon-fire and their parents inside the local firehall.
Both scenarios play out simultaneously, with the audience split up and the actors jumping back and forth between each space. After intermission, the audience swaps. The mechanics are made very clear from the start and so a frantic, urgent quality pervades the performance.
All of the characters are traumatized by loss or betrayal. Drowning deaths are common in this town and a tragic fire from years before haunts the events of the night. The stars may be aligned for history to repeat itself. The world itself might even be ending. A young soothsayer is convinced. And the signs are everywhere.
The sense of apocalyptic foreboding is palpable. Anahita Dehbonehie’s outdoor courtyard set features discarded remnants from old vehicles and furniture, surrounded by tarps with ominous graffiti, suggesting a world on the brink of collapse. Even the firehall interior feels desperate, its tacky event decor a barricade against a crumbling world. The titular outhouse and surrounding foliage feel grimy and authentic.
With some greaser-chic thrown in, the overall aesthetic of Nick Blais costumes for the teenagers is very club-kid. These youths scamper about in animal pyjamas, tiny backpacks, miniskirts and retro shades pushed up into ample hair. It’s a whole vibe.
As an allegory for our looming climate catastrophe, Clark’s text and director Mitchell Cushman’s production create an ominous atmosphere rife with humanity’s self-destructive potential. Redemption and hope are possible yet the story remains ambivalent, our plight framed as a beautiful contradiction—anarchic yet preordained—within a vast cosmos.
Most striking here is the consistently dubious space in which the text and actors exist. With wide eyes and grand theatrical gestures, it almost seems as if this could be merely a game; yet there is genuine emotion erupting and the stakes feel tangibly high.
Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus is, on one level, deliberately messy, though it is also thematically focused and bursting with humour and pathos. And Yung’s one-man Grease finale is quite an endearing spectacle.