Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Troilus and Cressida is not one of Shakespeare's better known plays. In Shakespeare's time, it was a box-office flop. When the play was later published, it came with an introduction that said it was "unsoil'd by the stage," which scholars believe is not true. The introduction was a way to salvage its reputation.
The play takes place during the Trojan Wars. It starts 7 years in. Paris, a Trojan, has kidnapped Helen, and fallen in love with her. Helen of Troy is "the face that launched 1000 ships." A narrator (shades of Henry V) gives us the basics of the action. Troilus, the king's son, is in love with Cressida, whose father has joined the Greeks. Pandarus, Cressida's uncle, tries to persuade Trolius to marry Cressida, even as they prepare for war. On the Greek side, generals Agamemnon and Ulysses prepare for war against the Trojans. They receive a notice from Hector, the Trojan warrior, that he will call out one of their warriors. The seemingly obvious choice is Achilles, who is a famed warrior, but very arrogant. Ulysses devises a plan to have Ajax, another good warrior, but not as vain, battle Hector. Meanwhile, Pandarus arranges for Troilus and Cressida to meet. They get married that night, and go immediately to the bedchamber (shades of Romeo and Juliet). Cassandra, daughter to the king, has a vision that Hector will be killed, and urges him not to go. Just when the romance heats up, Troilus and Cressida learn that she is to be exchanged to the Greeks for a Trojan warrior. She leaves, though not voluntarily. In the meantime, Ajax has now started to become as vain as Achilles was. He is set to fight Hector, but Hector discovers that Ajax is half-Greek, half-Trojan, so the battle is called off. Ulysses takes Troilus to see Cressida, only to find that Cressida is romantically involved with Diomedes. In the ensuing battle, Achilles kills Hector. This becomes the mourning cry of the Trojans. The play ends with Pandarus asking for medicine for his aching bones.
This play was the intern/apprentice project at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN. Interns from all over the United States are auditioned for a role at the Festival. The interns work tirelessly throughout the Festival, whether it is in the box office, at the concession stand, and many other roles. The acting interns will understudy for the Main Stage Players. This actually happened last year, when one of the Main Stage Players lost her voice, and another actor needed to be with his sick wife. One of last year's interns became a Main Stage Player this year. This production is their time to shine.
This play is not staged often, so there is no other comparison for the performance. It emphasizes the erotic side of the relationships. There is a bedroom scene with Paris and Helen, where Helen is wearing only a bra top and panties, and starts to get into it with Paris. Pandarus breaks in to generate some humor, but we know what has happened. There is also the scene with Troilus and Cressida the morning after their wedding, where Cressida is wearing only the bedsheet. There is also a homoerotic relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, which is played with great intensity
The play itself is disjointed. It doesn't know whether it wants to be a comedy, romance, drama, or history. This may be why it wasn't well received in Shakespeare's time. That said, this production is a good one. It was stage in the Black Box Theatre, a smaller theater with seats around the edges of a large open space, and the action taking place in the open space. It is similar to theater in the round, but rectangular.
It was a bit jarring to see women cast in the roles of Agamemnon and Ulysses, and have them portrayed as women. (Shades of Xena, the Warrior Princess, a TV show popular in the 1990s.) Jessica Shoemaker (Agamemnon) and Emily Hawkins (Ulysses) manage to pull it off. They make it believable that, were they not playing actual historical figures, could be generals.
Robbie Love (Patroclas) at times plays his part like Jack on Will & Grace, with the over-the-top behavior. At other times, he shows off the erotic side with Achilles.
As for Silas Sellnow as Achilles, he is made up to look like Brad Pitt. He effectively conveys the image of someone who is full of himself, and has no time for anyone else, including the generals.
Caroline Amos as Thersites provides much comic relief. She also provides the drum, which punctuates the scenes. Sbe is also the chorus part, commenting on the action and at times moving it along.
Oriana Lada does double duty as Helen and Cassandra. As Helen, she flaunts her sexuality, and makes it clear why Paris would want her, and why she is the face that launched 1000 ships. (see the bedroom scene I described earlier) As Cassandra, she wails her prophecy, such that you want to yell out to Hector, "It's a trap! Don't go!" Both are effective. If I hadn't seen it in my program, I wouldn't have believed they were both played by the same person.
Riley O'Toole is great as Pandarus. He often provides comic relief, as he is primarily focused on his own needs.
Ted Kitterman as Ajax does well, first portraying Ajax as humble, then as a proud warrior, ready to take on any opponent, real or imagined.
Last but not least are Rob Glauz (Troilus) and Allison Morse (Cressida). At first, Troilus is portrayed as a shy lover, who is afraid to talk to Cressida, even at the insistent urging of Pandarus. Eventually, though, he breaks through, and becomes her lover and her husband. Cressida is more certain of her love for Troilus, and weeps at first when she is required to leave. She is conflicted about meeting up with Diomedes, but eventually gives in. Both of these actors portray this well. You believe that they belong together.
If I didn't mention anyone here, it is only for lack of space. All did well, and I look forward to seeing them in their other roles soon.
For more information on the Festival, including the intern/apprentice project, go to www.grsf.org.
For more information on Winona, go to www.visitwinona.com.
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