The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival troupe does it again. Amidst the brutal heat and humidity, they took a work traditionally known as ambiguous and difficult, and brought it to life on the great lawn at historic Boscobel. Troilus and Cressida tells the story of love and war, friendship and vanity, life and death during the days of battle between the Greeks and the Trojans.
Ambiguous because for one, there was a tender Romeo/Juliet relationship between the title characters, though at other parts of the play, their true love and faith isn’t apparent. Difficult since some of the action is a bit hard to follow, with an ending that seems a bit…anti-climatic. Even director Terrence O’Brien, says in his notes, “It is as though Shakespeare were writing experimental theatre, creating a dramatic form that never existed before.” However, to O’Brien’s credit, there were a few welcome bits of levity, especially the lip-synching duet performed by the characters Hector and Achilles, and a Beyonce tune by the ladies of the company, with the men in the background performing an entertaining dance. It’s these moments that audiences come to love about the HVSF – their clever juxtaposing of a modern-day connection to these stories of long ago.
Would any Shakespeare play be complete without a trickery or two, secret plots, and plenty of witty phrases about human nature, such as “The common curse of mankind-folly and ignorance,” and “To be wise, and love, exceeds man’s might.” They’re here. Plus, doesn’t he always throw in some sexual innuendos? Yes. In fact, the Victorians in the 1800’s condemned the work because of its sexual explicitness. (Sorry, you’ll just have to come and see it.)
This reviewer suggests theatre goers arrive with an open mind, and to brush up on your high school mythology facts and characters. It would help keep track of the many characters that come and go on the dirt floor stage, shouting and sword-fighting. “Shakespeare,” O’Brien, reminds us, “wrote this play 400 years ago about a mythological war which supposedly took place thousands of years before.” Standout performances from the crippled narrator, Thersites (Jason O’Connell), prideful Achilles (Ryan Quinn), and the matchmaking/dealmaking Pandarus (Stephen Paul Johnson) made the evening entertaining and worthy of a warm..no scratch that…a hot night at the theatre.
The festival runs through September, with three shows rotaing each week. Besides Troilus and Cressida, make sure you see The Taming of the Shrew with its delightful 1960’s take on the popular work, and The Bomb-itty of Errors, a rap version of Shakespeare’s popular story of lost twins, mistaken identities and hilarious mishaps.
Photos by William Marsh
Photo 1: Eleanor Handley, Matt Amendt, Stephen Paul Johnson
Photo 2: Matt Amendt, Eleanor Handley, Sam Dash
Photo 3: Wayne T. Carr, Matt Amendt, Denver Milord
Photo 4: Christian Jacobs, Wesley Mann, Sam Dash, Richard Ercole
Photo 5: Entrance of the Greeks and the Trojans