By Michael Mell
Troilus and Cressida is one of Shakespeare’s less performed works and may be so because it does not fall neatly into the usual categories of tragedy, comedy and history, but contains a little of each. Troilus and Cressida resemble Romeo and Juliet except while the latter can’t bear parting, the former actively seek separation. Hector, son of Priam and a general in the Trojan army is slain by Achilles; the designated hitter of the Greek army. Set during the later years of the Trojan War, Shakespeare faithfully follows the plotline of the Iliad to describe Achilles’ refusal to participate in battle to Hector’s death and at the same time weaves in the love story. Ending the play, Hector and Achilles finally face each other in battle, but Hector’s death is not by Achilles hand but those of the Myrmidons (his henchman) though he takes the credit. Linking the plot elements is Thersites (played by Jason O’Connell.) Described as “a deformed and scurrilous Greek” he functions both as Greek chorus and a Cabaret-like emcee commenting on the larger themes of the play as well as the foibles of individual characters.
In the program notes Artistic Director of the Festival, Terrence O’Brien says “It’s hard to imagine that the play’s commentary of war, gender relations, vanity, honor and human foibles was ever more relevant that it is today.” Under O’Brien’s direction all these are underscored by Shakespeare’s words and by contemporary cultural references. Appropriate and many times bawdy gestures make plain the comic and lurid aspects of the dialog. In what has become an O’Brien directorial trademark, the second half opens with the female members of the cast dancing and “voguing” to a contemporary song. On the eve of battle, when the Trojans are invited to dine with the Greeks, similar dancing breaks out with Hector and Agamemnon, microphone in hand, lip-synching an old Louis Armstrong duet. Thersites comments afterward are delivered as homage to Armstrong complete with Thersites’ mopping of his brow. These breaks from the action of the play are always popular with the audience.
Troilus and Cressida plays in repertory with the Taming of the Shrew and the Bombitty of Errors though September 5 at Boscobel, on Rte 9D in Cold Spring.