Thursday, October 25, 2012

OSF: Troilus and Cressida

Troilus and Cressida is a fascinating play with layers of complexity and irony, and I would love to see it produced more often. It confounds expectations; there is no wedding, no pivotal battle scene, no coronation, no tragic hero; indeed, no hero at all. Every character is deeply flawed and there is no evolution to higher, better selves or resolution to tragic consequences. It is scathing in its disillusion. The ending is a Shakespearean raised middle finger as filthy, horrid Pandarus bequeaths his syphillis on the audience. Yes, I'd much rather see T&C a few more times than yet another production of R&J.

T&C poses the question: is it worth it? The language is about possession, ownership, buying and selling, contracts and value. Is it worth it to fight over Helen? Is it worth it to sleep with Troilus? Is it worth it to fight for Cressida? Is it worth it to get out of bed in the morning? 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's production, directed by Rob Melrose, was set in Iraq, which is obvious and effective. The lassitude and tawdriness of war was convincingly depicted in this play about war that has no battles, just posturing, looting, bargaining, and score settling. Even as the audience was filing in and throughout the play, soldiers were battling boredom by shooting golf balls, gossiping, and generally goofing off. 

There is no hero in T&C, but there is a seer. Pesky Thersites is a clown character brilliantly played by Michael Elich. He is an observer and truth-teller, like so many of Shakespeare's "fools," and this production did not shrink from his foulness and cynicism about men and women and their exploits in war and love. 

Another strong performance was from OSF newcomer Tala Ashe as Cressida and Cassandra. Cressida is between Scylla and Charybdis for much of the play, and the way Ashe played it you could practically see the wheels turning in her head as she tries to navigate the world of men. She also embodied Cassandra's despair at being disbelieved (I wonder how many people realized the same actor was playing both roles). We hope to see more of Ashe in future years at OSF.

Troilus and Cressida runs through Nov. 4 in the New Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

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