BWW Review: TROILUS AND CRESSIDA - Rarely Seen Shakespeare Brilliantly Presented
Something For Nothing Theatre Company has a reputation for performing little known Shakespearean works on a shoestring budget, this year it's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, and it's brilliant.
Written by William Shakespeare around 1602, TROILUS AND CRESSIDA is the Bard's retelling of the Homeric classic, The Iliad. Set late in the ten year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek city states, the tragedy centers on Troilus (Joseph Clingan), the youngest son of Trojan King Priam (David Boss) brother to Hector (John Gonzalez) and Paris (Kevin Moxley). On the Greek side of the war are King Agamemnon (David Boss), Ulysses (Robert Deike), Achilles (Sanjay Rao), Ajax (Nell McKeown) and Thersites (Taylor Flanagan). The war began when Helen of Troy (Corinna Browning) fled from her husband Menelaus (Joseph Clingan) to live with her lover Paris. Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon are insulted by her betrayal, raise allies and demand the return of his wife. The Trojans refuse and ten years of war ensue culminating with the trickery of the Trojan Horse. In nearly a decade of warfare, tempers have worn thin on both sides of the conflict, the famous quarrel between Achilles and Ulysses is one of note.
Many scholars call TROILUS AND CRESSIDA a problem play, part of which is a tragedy and part a witty comedy. The big question for a theatre company is how to play it? This is where a great director comes in. Shakespeare is like few other types of plays available. Every modern play comes with instructions, really they do. The script acting editions include such things as stage directions, actor's emotions or intention written directly on the page. Creativity within the intent of the playwright is an art unto itself. On the other hand, Shakespeare is an entirely different animal. There are virtually no stage directions, no intent clearly spelled out, no character descriptions on the front page, everything must come from the mind of the director. While this can be a terrifying prospect for many, there are those who rise to the occasion and give us something we have never seen before. An understanding of the text does not equal the ability to direct it, one must be able to translate 400 year old poetic language and make certain actors convey the meaning clearly. Something For Nothing's Deb Streusand is just such a director, she has made bold decisions that are backed up by her excellent cast. Commitment and vision are key with any Shakespeare play, TROILUS & CRESSIDA has both in excess. Far too many directors take the Bard too seriously, they are so immersed in reverence and the the search for deep meaning that they fail to understand the overriding purpose of theatre, to entertain. Streusand clearly understands the importance of entertaining the audience, putting emphasis on the truly funny moments and not holding back on the action packed fight scenes.
Like most folks I have seen my share of Shakespeare's plays, comedies, tragedies and histories. All of Shakespeare's plays must be studied in depth, every line must be looked at and portions cut as needed to further the story, helping the story make sense to a modern audience. Sometimes the subplots must be eliminated for running time. It takes a deep love for the over 400 year old plays to bring them to the modern audience. Something For Nothing is just stellar at getting to the meat of these plays and breathing life into them. The entire cast of TROILUS AND CRESSIDA is outstanding, with most of the cast playing more than one role. Standouts include Taylor Flanagan as Thersites, she gets every ounce of fun out of the physically demanding comic character. Becca Musser is lovely as the tragic heroine, Cressida. She embodies the loving bride who is ultimately forced to abandon her secret husband for the demands of her family. Andy Bond, always entertaining, is excellent as Pandarus, the elderly, creepy coward from whom we get the word 'pander'. As Ulysses, Robert Deike is always enjoyable to watch, his voice and manner perfectly suited to Shakespeare. Sanjay Rao, a newcomer to the company, is all swagger and ego as Achilles, though he had some difficulty with volume early in the show, he made up for it with his wonderful death scene. Deb Streusand's direction is masterful, it's always wonderful to see a director who undwerstands the material and can bring it to a modern audience so effortlessly.
I give my highest recommendation to TROILUS AND CRESSIDA for pure entertainment value. The show is free and set in beautiful Ramsey Park, so take a picnic, a blanket, the beverage of your choice and discover a rarely seen play.
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA
by William Shakespeare
Something For Nothing Theatre Company
Directed by Deb Streusand
Ramsey Park, 4301 Rosedale Ave, Austin
June 8-24, Thursday thru Saturday nights 8:00 PM
Running Time: Approx 2 hours, with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: Free (actors pass the hat for donations at intermission),