dir. Jim Warren
One of the most delightful aspects of the conference at the Blackfriars Playhouse is the opportunity to see the offerings of the current season. I was particularly interested to see Troilus and Cressida, having not seen that play in production before. The play was performed in the Blackfriars Playhouse, which is a replica of an Elizabethan stage, wallpapered with people, and fully interactive.
The American Shakespeare Center works with an established and long-standing ensemble cast, and the production was played by a small company, doubling the roles, so that each player was an actor in both the Greek and Trojan camps. Inexplicably, the production doubled across gender lines, rendering the Achilles/Patroclus relationship visually heterosexual. Although Patroclus was still textually male, played by the delicate Emily Brown, became feminized to the point at which it troubled the performance. Such “straightening” of the relationship was further undermined by the performance of Diomedes by the beautiful Tracie Thomason. As well as feeling like a cop-out, it confused the plot, particularly when Achilles’ love of a Trojan princess was cited as a cause of his unwillingness to fight.
Troilus and Cressida is a fascinating and flawed play, and as such, benefits from strong direction. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the ASC’s production. The play not only tells the story of the eponymous lovers, but of Hector and Achilles, Agamemnon, Menelaus and Paris, the politics of war and the domestic consequences of such decisions. That’s a lot to take in, and the ASC’s production, unfortunately, did not facilitate our understanding. Playing the text with complete fidelity means denying the audience, for example, the opportunity to understand Cressida’s decision to betray Troilus turn to Diomedes. The vaguely Grecian costumes contributed to the general lack of specificity that characterized the productions. Troilus and Cressida is a modern play – brutal, uncertain and morally ambiguous. In keeping the play trapped in the past, it became an unapproachable relic. (L. Geddes, October 2013)