Another reframed Shakespeare play, another 13 (I counted) helicopters disturbing performance (these can’t be rerouted?!), another frighteningly lifelike battle utilizing explosions and assault rifles?!
Troilus & Cressida appears to have been selected and certainly was staged to shock. A lengthy combat scene is viscerally difficult to sit through. At a time when war, increased local violence, lack of gun control and terrorism are ubiquitous in the news, it strikes me that subjecting us to something so theatrically realistic and compelling, achieves the complete opposite. Is this something to which we want to become inured?!
Troilus- Andrew Burnap, Pandarus- John Glover, Cressida- Ismenia Mendes
This is also a piece rife with testosterone-filled exposition; long episodes of men comparing muscles (a euphemism), swearing, and daring. A particularly odd choice. Having said that, acting and staging are skillful and energetic.
The latter part of the Trojan War: After playing footsie awhile, with the matchmaking help of her uncle Pandarus (John Glover), spunky Cressida (Ismenia Mendas) and earnest, boyish Troilus (Andrew Burnap) admit to and consummate their love. Shortly thereafter, she’s the object of prisoner exchange ending up in a Greek camp hotly pursued by Diomedes (Zach Appleman) to whom she turns, either attracted or in survival mode.
Because of a promise to his lady?! the great Greek soldier Achilles (seamless last minute replacement Louis Cancelmi) refuses to fight, choosing instead to remain in his tent with his lover Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), listening to heavy metal music. Powers-that-be trick him into one-on-one combat with Troilus’s brother Hector (Bill Heck) by first sending in the played-as-stupid-and-obtuse Ajax (Alex Breaux) who loses without shedding blood.
It’s not clear what the fight will accomplish, but at the Greek camp, Trojans and their hosts remain in peaceful truce. Troilus is led to spy on Cressida by trouble-making Ulysses (Corey Stoll), a civilian advisor who times it so that the Trojan will observe his girl with Diomedes. She’s accused of perfidy by her boyfriend and storms off.
In this version, Achilles then challenges Hector for a national rematch out of pride, though synopses found online indicate he does so to revenge Patroclus’ death which is attributed to Hector. Wounded, he also loses. Grisly war resumes. At the end of the piece, like Caesar at the Forum, Hector is surrounded by Achilles men and ignominiously knifed to death. Troilus mourns him kneeling in a pool of his brother’s blood. We never find out what happens to Cressida.
Ulysses-Corey Stoll and Ajax- Alex Beaux
Andrew Burnap and Ismenia Mendas, the show’s peripheral lovers, are natural actors with appealing chemistry, especially when in denial. Manly Bill Heck (a perfect movie Superhero) imbues Hector with dignity as well as confidence. Alex Breaux’s dumb Ajax is played with absolute credibility. Ulysses (Corey Stoll) is appropriately slimy. Stuck in caricatures, David Harbour (Achilles) and Tom Pecinka (Patroclus) ably carry out the director’s vision. Any play with the splendid John Glover is, to me, worth attending. Here the actor is warm, elegant, and occasionally playful as Pandarus – completely at home with Shakespeare.
Director Daniel Sullivan uses the mostly empty stage evocatively. His solders, with few exceptions, are cliché coarse and/or officious displaying no individuality. (Much of this may be the writing.) I don’t understand the compulsion to insert the currently requisite man in ridiculous drag and several flamboyant gay soldiers. As depicted, war is skin curdling.
Troilus-Andrew Burnap and Hector-Bill Heck
The play is performed in modern dress (David Zinn) which barely registers a blip (so acclimated are theater-going audiences) until soldiers take the stage in recognizable fighting gear.
Mark Menard’s Sound Design is aptly unnerving.
Sound like fun? The curious should be prepared.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Diomedes- Zach Appelman and Aeneas- Sanjit De Silva (center) and the Company
The Public Theater’s FREE! Shakespeare in the Park presents
Troilus & Cressida by William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
The Delacorte Theater- Enter at 81st Street and Central Park West
Through August 14, 2016
In person at The Delacorte
Downtown at Astor Place
Mobile Lottery Powered by Today Tix
By now you know that Disaster! is a cliché soaked parody of 1970s disaster movies. Familiarity with these will undoubtedly spotlight “in” jokes like a nun parodying Helen Reddy’s character in Airport 1975, but is not necessary for comprehension. Little is. Either you have nostalgic affection for the genre and, equally important, pop and soul music of the era, or you don’t.
Exaggerated songs are actually placed so appropriately, it seems they might’ve been written for this kitschy piece. “Hot Stuff” (The Rolling Stones), for example, manages to apply to women, a geological survey, and what should be coming out of a kitchen serving cold buffet for lack of fire doors.
Roger Bart and Kerry Butler
Tony (Roger Bart, disappointingly subdued) is the con man owner of The Barracuda Casino and Dining Discotheque, moored to a city pier to escape gambling restrictions. He’s greased palms, cutting safety corners at every juncture.Think lounge lizard in a blue tux. Tony’s maybe girl, Jackie, a ditsy, shapely, faux Tina Louise, is headlining the club on the off chance he’ll marry her. (Rachel York, whose wide-eyed focus holds nicely-oh, and she can sing.) Her identical twins, the whining Ben and Lisa (both characterless Baylee Littrell) are along for the ride.
Marianne (the reliably fine Kerry Butler), an events reporter for The Times, is on the trail of corruption that built the Barracuda. When she discovers one of the waiters is Chad, a failed puzzle designer she left at the altar in favor of her career, regrets on both sides are obvious. (Adam Pascal,’attractive voice, appropriate camp attitude.) You knew there had to be thwarted romance, right? “I Can’t Live” if livin’ Is without you (Harry Nilsson)
Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler
Shirley (Faith Prince) and her husband Maury (Kevin Chamberlin) wearing some of the most purposefully ghastly outfits you may ever see onstage (Wiliam Ivey Long with a glint in his eye) are out for a night of late-in-marriage fun. The troupers would be well matched if Chamberlin were given more to do. As it is, Prince has two terrific turns. Secretly dying, Shirley’s presumptive symptoms emerge as uncontrollable tics, pelvic tilts, and foul language of which Ms. Prince makes the most. Even with a scarf stuffed in her mouth, she’s funny. Later, leading surviving passengers in a tap dance of Morse Code, she communicates escape information to those trapped below. (Clever idea)
Kevin Chamberlin, Faith Prince, and Kerry Butler
The axis of this mash-up turns on two pivotal characters. The first, Disaster Expert, Professor Ted Scheider (Seth Rudetsky, clearly having a good time), is a single minded scientist who, having discovered the pier is drilled into a fault line, predicts an imminent “geological event.” Chased around the ship by Tony, the straight man attempts to warn oblivious guests of oncoming cataclysm. At one point, costumed by sympathetic Jackie, he ends up on the stage with her singing backup to “Mocking Bird” in exactly the parroting arrangement by Carly Simon with which we’re familiar.
The second, is the pièce de résistance of the evening, Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy. Worthy of a Tony nomination, Simard, guitar slung across her small frame, breaks up the audience with each and every deadpan remark. It seems the sister “had” a gambling addiction.
While Marianne, Chad and the Professor express what they want with “Feelings”(Morris Albert/Louis “Loulou” Gaste), Downy’s quiet contribution is “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.” When Shirley sees her struggling and asks whether the nun is ok, she remarks “I’m more than ok, I’m bathed in the love of the Lord” without an iota of expression or enthusiasm.
Simard’s tour de force (and that of Director Jack Plotnick) is a siren dance to the TH220 Slot Machine (about which she knows every intimate detail), missing only the seven veils – it’s hysterical. Every physical and emotional muscle of this thespian finesses comedy with originality and pitch perfect timing.
Needless to say, there’s an earthquake, a capsizing, and a tidal wave. Token characters are wounded, dismembered or die. (Nothing like blood and mayhem to cheer on a contemporary audience.) As women’s clothing diminishes, couples come together. Marianne and Chad will try again. Tony eventually gets his comeuppance. But you knew all this.
Were it not for Lighting by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Mark Menard, a whole lotta expensive smoke, and the veteran featured players, you might think you were watching a show cobbled together at a college. Tobin Ost’s Sets are cheap looking; the tank of piranha puppets show a visible arm, rising sea water is fabric held on two sides, sharks clinging to Tony up to his elbows clearly come from Toys R Us, sections of-what? wall? fall from above hung by obvious cables. (Conversely, an outrageous number of large, carnivorous, stuffed rats works wonderfully.)
Director Jack Plotnick gets his tone right but does less well with crowd scenes. Small moments, like Marianne’s flipping her mane before carefully ripping her skirt to bind Chad’s wound, or the Professor’s navigating a beam like Philippe Petit, are often more satisfying than big ones.
Also on board is ex-disco diva Levora Verona (Lacretta Nicole) who never seems to make a place for herself.
The extravagant lampoon is partly awful and partly very funny. If you can get through the first to the second…
Photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography
Opening: Catherine Ricafort, Roger Bart, Baylee Littrell, Seth Rudetsky, Rachel York,Kevin Chamberlin, Olivia Philip
By Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick
Additional Material by Drew Geraci
Directed by Jason Plotnick
208 West 41st Street