Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Troilus & Cressida"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Troilus And Cressida"

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Todd Hearon

Set Design by Marian Cooke & Jeffrey Jones
Lighting Design by Jonathan Jay Dubois
Music by Dave Bell, Chris Bergh, John Mooradian
Fight Choreography by Robert Haas
Stage Manager Kevin Kidd

Troilus........................................Jeff Peterson
Pandarus....................................John Devaney
Aeneas.......................................Dan Koughan
Cressida.................................Helen McElwain
Alexander/Servant/Servant........Courtney Graff
Agamemnon..............................Augustus Kelly
Nestor/Priam..........................Tony Dangerfield
Ulysses.....................................Michael Walker
Diomedes/Calchus.......................Angel Connell
Menelaus/Helenus..........................Robert Haas
Ajax...................................Jonathan Jay Dubois
Thersites....................................Scott Grumling
Achilles..................................Stephen Radochia
Patroclus..................................Aaron Sompong
Hector...........................................Jeffrey Jones
Paris..............................................Brett Conner
Cassandra.......................................Penny Frank
Helen...................................................Erin Bell
Andromache................................Marion Brandt


The Bridge Theatre Company delights in taking risks. They are doing a new play by that contemporary upstart William Shakespeare --- something called "Troilus And Cressida" which only pretends to be about events during the seventh year of the Greek/Trojan armed conflict. In Shakespeare's cynical eyes, the great names from the Iliad are all treacherous, backbiting egotists satirized and insulted by their impish, foul-mouthed flunky Thersites (Scott Grumling). Shakespeare even shows the Trojan and Greek warriors partying together, after exchanges of bragging and insults of course, like mutually respectful wrestlers outside the ring. In the complicated story the title-named characters play a counterpointing bittersweet plot about young love crushed by wartime diplomacy and brokered by a honey-tongued flimflam artist called Pandarus (John Devaney). As with any company taking risks on a shoestring there are triumphs and failures aplenty, but all of it is fascinating, and the Robert Haas battle choreography alone is worth the price of admission.

The set designers here, Marian Cooke and Jeffrey Jones, have used scrims and screens and shadows, abstract set-pieces, back-lights and flashlights, all creating boldly original stage-pictures. However, the major metaphor for the play is three big, battered steel drums that speak of seven wearying years of indecisive war. They point-up the fatigue-dress of the gruff Greeks; they can be rolled loudly across the echoing stage to sound the alarums of battle; and they are as hollow as tarnished heroes, and trash-bins for dignity and honor.

Director Todd Hearon has kept this as much as possible, a totally contemporary play. The lines are given directly, in colloquial soldier-speech, by dingy, bearded veterans of military stalemate quarrelling more with each other than the enemy. Crafty Ulysses (Michael Walker) plots to pluck the arrogantly prideful Achilles (Stephen Radochia) out of his sybaritic lethargy by puffing a doltish Ajax (Jonathan Jay Dubois) into answering a challenge to single combat from his Trojan cousin Hector (Jeffrey Jones). But Hector's honor bids him fight but not slay a kinsman, while Achilles traps the Trojan hero swordless and has his henchmen batter the defenseless warrior to mincemeat. These are not Homer's greats, but thugs too long in the trenches.

Nor are their Trojan adversaries over-noble. When the four sons of Priam discuss their war aims, Hector is for giving Helen back to the Greeks as not worth a war, though of course Paris(Brett Conner) talks him out of it. (Throughout this scene, what at first seems a frozen statue of Helen slowly changes her statuesque positions to mirror the flow of the argument about her.)

Young Prince Troilus, of course, is divided between his duties as a soldier, and his infatuation with young Cressida. Jeff Peterson and Helen McElwain are this star-crossed pair, hiding their passion lest the other chide. McElwain's Cressida, standing straight and still and small, is all vulnerable innocence ripe for disaster. Her final commitment to Troilus is all tender sincerity all the more heartbreaking when she is almost immediately handed to the Greeks in ransom for a Trojan captive and used as a sexual plaything.

Here Pandarus, the sexual broker first to the lovers and then to the crass statesmen, is played by John Devaney as a smarmy Southern lawyer --- a sort of Huey Long long gone to pot. His eloquently flowery cynicism balances the barnyard brashness of Scott Grumling's Thersites, one a sell-out Trojan, the other a guffawing Greek.

Director Todd Hearon has the old Greek sage Nestor and the Trojan King Priam --- the cooler, older heads in this war --- both played by Tony Dangerfield. He gets an excellent portrait of prideful pomposity (mocked behind his back by the whole Greek army) from Jonathan Jay Dubois' Ajax; a cold field-commodore from Augustus Kelly's stern Agamemnon; a devious plotter from Michael Walker's Ulysses; a hot-head from Robert Haas' Menelaus. Stephen Radochia's flowing locks and sculpted biceps and haughtily mocking sneer eloquently define the youth and pride of Achilles.

Women in this play get short shrift. Cressida hesitates to give her heart to a Troilus who might desert her, only to be made a spoil of war. Erin Bell has one brief scene as Helen, lazily exercizing the prerogatives of the most beautiful woman in the world. Penny Frank with bared feet and flyaway hair is Cassandra, prophetess of doom doomed to be ignored. And Maria Brandt is Andromache, Hector's pleading wife who cannot keep him from battle, yet must stand on Troy's battlements and watch him die. Courtney Graff plays three different roles, but they were originally written for men.

This is a big, complicated, thoroughly contemporary play, done with bold strokes and insight. There are slighted passages, speeches made inaudible by background noise, and scenes of eloquent originality. The whole last half of act two is a series of battlefield confrontations inventively staged. Everyone connected with it must think that, given another month of work, another thousand dollars of budget, every inch and minute of this production would sing.

But this is a shoestring company whose brilliant reach exceeds it's physical grasp. The surprise is not that The Bridge Theatre Company has brought so many inspired excellences to Shakespeare's script, but that, given all their difficulties, so many of their ideas have found fruition. It is a production of which everyone can be proud.

Love,
===Anon.


"Troilus And Cressida" (till 13 June)
THE BRIDGE THEATRE COMPANY
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1(617)426-0320

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