The billing of “Trojan Women” is apt — it is undeniably “experimental theater.” Unfortunately, it is not experimental in the true sense where it tests new boundaries or asks new questions. Instead, it merely contains an overabundance of often wildly politicized themes. The bitterness and profundity of the violent subject stand in such deep contrast to the highly stylized, self-conscious production as to render it almost a parody of itself.

Its title, “Trojan Women,” recalls Euripides’ play, but this show, written by Charles Mee, arrives at the story of the fall of Troy only after a roundabout path. According to Greek mythology, Greek soldiers ended a 10-year war with the Trojans by burning and pillaging their gilded city. But the Trojan women of that story — Hecuba, Queen of Troy; her children, Cassandra and Polyxena; and her daughter-in-law, Andromache — are not recognizable. Instead, it’s nearly a vaudeville show, as characters dance, sing and agonize their way through vignettes connected through a common theme — the connection between military and sexual violence. With energy and passion, the actors occasionally score with a revealing moment or unexpected insight, but the skipping around among time periods — from castle walls to mortar shells to streetcars — renders it mostly confusing.

Fortunately for the audience, the first half also includes one of the show’s best elements — its visual effects. The light design by Lauren Schell ’02 is skillful, making the show exciting to watch without interfering with the action. Colin Spoelman’s ’01 graffiti-covered set is adapted well to the continually changing atmosphere of the story.

Another successful element is the costuming by Caroline Duncan ’02. The mix of styles and periods is amusing and provides something to look at as one wonders what is going on.

But as these characters and their story slowly emerge from the swirl of well-lit monologues of miseries and short cabaret interludes — featuring numbers like “Fire on Babylon” and “Baby, I’m Yours” — the show becomes much more engaging. The initial chaos transitions into a quirky, witty, slightly deadpan riff on the traditional theme of women’s sufferings at the hands of men and fate, a subject that leaves a lot to be said.

As Hecuba, Nina Rastogi ’02 ties the show together with her strong performance. Not just going through the motions, she makes the tortured story of the queen who has lost everything believable. The characters of Polyxena (Katie Porter ’02), numerology-obsessed nymphet and sacrificial victim, and lesbian callgirl Andromache (Emily Lodish ’03), a girl who longs for her lost dreams of bestiality, suicide and cross-dressing, didn’t scream “plausible,” but they were crazy and engaging. The three chorus girls, Emily Bloom ’02, Molly Epstein ’04 and Sophie Nimmannit ’03, proved, with their sinuous prowling and smirking side-remarks, that bitchiness does endure through the ages. Helen (Emelie Gevalt ’03) walks a perfect line between innocence and treachery as she greets her abandoned husband, Menelaus, with an ever-so-slightly bored “Thank God, I’ve found you at last.”

But “Trojan Women” doesn’t seem to know when it’s got a good thing going. Instead of sticking with its theme of perseverance and suffering — even war, and Lord knows that’s a big enough topic! — it drowns the whole story in political themes. The men of the production — Jackson Loo ’02, Emlen Smith ’03, Kendrick Strauch ’04, Ross Wachsman ’02 — showed their skill, but actually deserved medals just for being there at all. Both explicit and implicit in nearly every scene, the line “This is how men are” — namely, brutal, selfish and unfeeling — recurred in the script over and over. The female characters seem endlessly sunk into self pity. One asks, “What would be the point of being a woman if you didn’t know one day the world would break your heart?”

Ultimately, the moments of clarity and wit of “Trojan Women” are not worth the grief involved in excavating them from the chaos.

Trojan Women

University Theater

Friday at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.

Tickets: $5, e-mail or call 432-1212.

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