at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Troilus and Cressida
by William Shakespeare
Most of the flash and bang of this infrequently produced Shakespeare play comes from the modern ordinance that accompanies Troilus and Cressida‘s teleportation into the 21st Century Middle East. T&C is not bad entertainment, but I experienced no bite, no zing in this deeply cynical tale.
The story of how almost everyone at every level is dishonest or deluded, especially when it comes to patriotic wars, is an always-timely subject. While the language is clear and the context maintained throughout this performance, only once did I feel truly miserable for an on-stage character as they were being betrayed. The other instances of cheating and disappointing behavior went by without dramatic intensity. So she picks up with a new guy at night after swearing undying love for you this morning? So what? Get over it already.
Director Rob Melrose gave the production some nice visuals. The modern-day soldiers were playing dice and hanging out as drug-addled slackers without altering Shakespeare’s words. The scenes of piety employed Islamic prayer rugs and beads. Many actors look Arabic or from a Middle Eastern country, and they were pretty. But, Melrose didn’t give the talented cast a consistent vision or goal-oriented pacing.
The play’s comic relief meddling buffoon — the Polonius cognate of T&C — is Pandarus (Barzin Akhavan). Melrose has directed him as a drama-queen, over-the-top fop. Maybe most directors see Pandarus that way. Maybe the part is written that way. Of course, I used to think Polonius could only be a senseless old fool in Hamlet, too. I thought that until I saw Richard Elmore’s Polonius in 2010. Elmore’s pulled-back, real-world concerned father showed me why Polonius was supposed to be a trusted advisor to the king (and not just the court jester). Elmore was brilliant and his work added depth to an already-amazing drama. Conversely, by allowing or directing Akhavan to show Pandarus as a fluffy gadfly, this T&C is doomed to oblivion in the OSF archives, filed under “Misses, Light-Weight.”
The double-casting of most actors in similar positions in opposing armies was predictable and not confusing enough to be interesting. Some of the double casting felt like just pure economizing. To be honest, I couldn’t tell the difference between meaningful and economic casting, and I also didn’t care.
Bernard White’s Hector stood out for his varied, measured character. When he was murdered, I felt a loss.
The other actor that rose about the general stew was Michael Elich as Thersites/Alexander. 2012 is Elich’s year where he can read the phone book and it sounds like poetry.
On the other hand, poor Peter Macon returned to his bombastic worst as Achilles. We’d seen him be reasonable in some other roles over the past year, but oh my. His blustering intensity was too inept to be dramatic and too sincere to be comical.
Four years ago at Presidential election time, OSF produced a tight, topical version of Coriolanus. That show was a spectacularly depressing reminder of the consistency of war, politics, and hypocrisy. We left the New Theater in 2008 wondering why Coriolanus was so infrequently selected for production. I suspect that in the hands of a better director, we would have similar questions when we left the New Theater this year after seeing T&C.
Instead, we left T&C untouched. We hadn’t been bored. We hadn’t wasted our time. We hadn’t seen great theater.