Women & War

For the past three days I’ve been on the island of Hydra, living  in a timelessly Greek manner: swimming in the sea, eating tomatoes and feta with oregano, and, as the sun goes down and the cool of the evening sets in, gathering with others in an amphitheatre to watch plays by Euripides and Sophocles–or, rather, new plays based upon theirs that, like those ancient ones, address the contradictions of living in a war-obsessed society.

These plays–Velina Hasu Houston’s The Intuition of Iphigenia, Judith Thompson’s Elektra in Bosnia, and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Ajax in Afghanistan–were commissioned for the first annual International Women & War Conference, brainchild of director Peggy Shannon, chair of the Theatre program at Ryerson University in Toronto.  http://www.ryerson.ca/theatreschool/conference.html

The Intuition of Iphigenia was a gorgeous dance theatre piece exploring the notion of sacrificing yourself for your country. The text was painfully thin and flat, a reflection of the cliche-ridden language of war, reminiscent of Wilfred Owen’s “old Lie.”  And what a resurgence of interest there’s been in the tale of Ajax, the soldier who, because he has no honor to show for his time in war, commits suicide (onstage, too, in a strong swerve from usual ancient Greek performance practice). Ajax in Afghanistan takes us inside Ajax’s PTSD-mangled mind to call attention to the lingering mental toll war takes on soldiers and families.

Over late night dinners at the taverna we kept returning to, and arguing over, Elektra in Bosnia. While it was my least favorite of the plays (it felt unfinished, unsure of its structure, too obvious in its lecturing on the Electra story), its subject matter continues to haunt. Are we just now beginning to comprehend the horrors of Bosnia? Is it more haunting because we stood idly by for so long?

Or is it more haunting to me because of its front-and-center atrocities toward women? This, it seems, is why female writers and directors have been drawn to try to represent it: obliquely in Sarah Kane’s Blasted; through the eyes of American liberals wanting to “help” in Eve Ensler’s Necessary Targets; or as straight-on realism in Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey.

How are women used in war? This is what I will take up next time.

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