Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

American Players Theatre: Troilus and Cressida

On Sunday, September 9th, we made the pilgrimage to Spring Green to see APT's production of Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida." We were interested and curious to see this rarely performed play, even though reviews were ambiguous. (In fairness, the reviews questioned the goodness of the script, not the presentation, a judgment we are inclined to agree with. However, we have as an informal goal in life to see as many of Shakespeare's plays as we reasonably can, and when else will we see this one?)

The play is generally considered problematic, in part because it is partly a tragedy, and partly a history. This isn't necessarily a problem for Shakespeare, since "The Merchant of Venice" is a tragedy with a secondary comedy plot, and "Henry IV" is a history with a substantial comic element centering on Falstaff. However, 'Troilus and Cressida" has other issues, notably that the plot concerning the nominal main characters peters out about 3/4th of the way through.

The play begins in the seventh year of the Trojan War. Achilles is sulking in his tent with Patroclus, and the other Greeks berate themselves at their lack of success as the stalemated siege drags on. In Troy, Troilus (Nate Burger), youngest son of King Priam, courts Cressida (Laura Rook), daughter of the turncoat Calchas, who has gone over to the Greeks. Troilus suit is not prospering, largely because, rather than speaking for himself, he uses her garrulous uncle, Pandarus (James DeVita), as a go-between. (At least in Shakespeare's version, poor old Pandarus is somewhat maligned by historic use, since he's much more of a "yenta", trying to arrange a match for his niece, than a procurer as the term "panderer" has come to mean.) When Troilus speaks up for himself, Cressida welcomes him.

Of course this happens the night before King Priam agrees to exchange Cressida to the Greeks for a Trojan prisoner. Both are heartbroken as the Greek Diomedes (Travis A. Knight) leads Cressida to her father in the Greeks' camp. Despite being treated shamefully by the Greeks, who are rough and barbarous by contrast with the Trojans, Cressida seems to come down with "Stockholm Syndrome" in record time and accepts Diomedes as a substitute for Troilus, although not without some regret. Cressida's lack of motivation here is one of the weak points of the play, and makes one wonder if something is missing from the already long text. When Troilus witnesses her betrayal of him, that portion of the plot is ended, and the remainder of the play deals with well-known incidents from the Iliad: the duel between Hector (Marcus Truchinski) and Ajax (Michael Huftile); the subsequent battle in which Hector kills Patroclus (Samuel Ashdown) believing him to be Achilles (Eric Parks); and, in a departure from the classic events, the death of Hector, who is surprised unarmed and murdered by the Greeks in a gang, although Achilles takes the credit for his killing. Troilus seeks Diomedes on the battlefield, but their fighting is inconclusive, and both they and Cressida are alive at play's end. Both sides end the show shouting their battle cries, the Greeks still intent on winning back Helen, and the Trojans motivated to avenge Hector.

The history of this play is somewhat muddled, making it debatable if the play was ever actually performed in Shakespeare's time, which would make the flaws somewhat more understandable if the Bard never finished polishing it for production. APT gives it their best shot, with a nicely mounted production. The very sparse set is divided by heavy red beams, implying a construction site, or perhaps walls shored up to withstand a siege. Costumes for the men are basic tunics, russet for the Greeks, aqua for the Trojans, with leather armor pieces. All the women in the play are Trojans, and they had attractive gowns in a style suggesting classical Asia Minor.

Acting was up to APT's usual high standard, and there was excellent ensemble so that it's hard to point to any one outstanding performance, although notable were La Shawn Banks as the spiteful servant, Thersites, and Greta Wohlrabe in a small but poignant part as the tortured Cassandra. (Kudos to Shakespeare for his treatment of her: of course the Trojans would think she was mad, since she is frantically trying to warn them of doom and, due to Apollo's curse, none of them can believe her--).
One flaw in the directing struck me: As in other Shakespeare plays, the dialog for most of the "noble" characters is in verse, but those of a more "common" sort, in this case Pandarus, are in prose. DeVita delivers his lines in a very naturalistic and confiding fashion which stands out quite distinctly from the more formal and declamatory delivery of the others to the extent that it sounds like hearing overlapping parts of two different plays. Had I been directing, I would either have had DeVita add a bit more structure, or, more likely, have the rest of the cast smooth out the versifying to be more natural, something APT usually excels at.

Verdict: Ultimately unsatisfying, but the fault is in the play, and not the players. Thanks to APT for staging it so that we could have a chance to see it at its best.

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Tags: american players, shakepeare, theatre

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