TIGER AT THE GATES, Greasy Joan & Company, at the Chopin Theatre. "The Trojan War will not take place." So declares the original title (La Guerre de Troie n'aura pas lieu) of Jean Giraudoux's 1935 tragicomedy. In his variation on Homer's Iliad, the Trojan prince Hector barters for peace, to no avail: the Greeks want revenge for the abduction of their queen Helen, and the Trojans want to prove the manhood of their nation in battle. Giraudoux--a career diplomat and World War I veteran--finds both sorrow and absurd humor in the situation, which he conveys in artfully structured speeches and elegant epigrams that combine modern irony with the the formality of classic French drama.
It takes actors of exceptional skill and depth--like Michael Redgrave, the original star of this 1955 English adaptation by Christopher Fry--to balance the technical and emotional demands of the material. Greasy Joan & Company's actors are vocally and physically proficient, but director William Brown's production generally feels a bit academic and stilted despite beautifully colored quasi-classical costumes by Christine Birt. (And considering the enormous evil of the "tiger" growling at the gates of Giraudoux's France, the play's antimilitary arguments sound like naive appeasement.) The refined language of Tiger at the Gates is lovely to listen to, but the play comes alive here only at the climax--thanks in large part to the gravity and complexity of Gavin Witt's powerfully understated performance as the Greek general Ulysses. --Albert Williams