Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Troilus and Cressida

War is brutal and strange and Troilus & Cressida, one of Shakepeare’s later plays, is a triumph of layered drama. As with many of his so-called ‘problem plays’ there is a large amount of humor in the first acts, which makes for a dramatic contrast to the later ones in which there is nearly no humor at all.

Troilus, played with winning charm and exquisite movement by Raffi Barsoumian, is a young man in love with the beautiful Cressida. He is a prince of Troy, brother to the (in)famous Paris and the hero Ajax, which should make wooing the young lady easy. But, not only did her father betray the Trojans by going over to the Greeks, it turns out that she is a very smart lady. Cressida, played with captivating charm by the lovely Tala Ashe, knows that men love the chase, and the taking, much more than the having. She is determined to draw this courtship out as long as she possibly can. Troilus is aided in his courtship by Cressida’s uncle, the hilariously over-the-top –and-terribly-slimy Pandarus, who seems to be as much in love with Troilus as his niece, making his success in her bedding a strange bit of wish fulfillment.  Pandarus is played to perfection by Barzin Akhavan with gloriously mincing mannerisms and perfect vocal changes. (When he came out in a gold velour tracksuit the audience nearly fell over from laughter.)

Outside the walls in the Greek camp, the hero Achilles (Peter Macon) is sulking in his tent, popping pills and waiting for everyone to notice how wonderful he is. Ajax (gorgeously — in every sense of the word – played by Elijah Alexander) can’t get enough physical exercise, and Thersites (Michael Elich) has gone mad from sniffing paint spray. Elich takes his job as the effed up cynic very seriously and is, in fact, delivers one of the best performances.

As always, I was intrigued by the production – the drug use on both sides, for example. For the Greeks, using was clearly a way to ameliorate the boredom. (They’d been camped outside the walls for seven years already, how boring is that?) It was also fairly widespread and accompanied by a kind of madness. The Trojans’ use seemed to be more in line with a decadent party lifestyle . . . snorting coke off the mixer was the extent of it. Perhaps it was something Helen brought with her?

Post-intermission it nearly becomes a different play. There is little laughter, and much pain. I particularly thought the way Cressida is ‘introduced’ to the Greeks was a skilful indicator of the rape she might face if she isn’t ‘good’ to her protector. All too frequently a woman’s lot is to choose between protectors, and hope she chose the one least likely to hurt her.

Since 1997 I have been seeing plays at OSF, and this production is in my Top Ten of all time.