Ismenia Mendes, left, Andrew Burnap and John Glover
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
by Deirdre Donovan
Sullivan adds another feather to his cap by mounting Shakespeare’s most modern
play at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
and Cressida has
won the difficult affection of critics over the years. And, with Daniel
Sullivan’s ultra-modern staging of the Bard’s play at the Public Theater’s
Delacorte Theater, as the second offering of their Shakespeare–in-the-Park
season, it may well attract some new admirers.
what’s going on in Troilus and Cressida? Two stories, in fact,
that slowly intertwine into a whole. First, there’s the efforts of the
Greeks to get the champion Achilles out of bed with his lover Patroclus and
onto the battlefield. Secondly, there’s the efforts of Troilus to get Cressida
into his arms, before he must arm himself again--and go back onto the
Shakespeare’s other plays with two lovers in their titles—Romeo and Juliet and
Antony and Cleopatra—Troilus and Cressida invites us to
investigate two principals at once: Troilus, Priam’s son and the so-called
“prince of chivalry;” and Cressida, the daughter of the priest Calchas and
Troilus’ passionate lover. And though their romance starts outs so promising,
the lovers soon become a victim of their circumstances. And the Trojan War.
Thersites perhaps sums it up best: “Lechery, lechery; still, wars and lechery;
acting is the thing here. And Andrew Burnap, Ismenia Mendes and John Glover
are spot on as the triumvirate of Troilus, Cressida, and Pandarus. Glover, as
Pandarus, infuses his role with a mixture of sweetness and cunning early on,
and later with a sourness precipitated by the harsh realities of war. Burnap
and Mendes, playing opposite each other as the titular lovers, are
well-matched. The electricity between them--from the moment they are on stage
Burnap and Bill Heck
rest of the acting ensemble turn in some fine performances. John Douglas
Thompson is utterly commanding as Agamemnon. Corey Stoll is excellent as the
brainy Ulysses, an eloquent statesman who could give Trump some real pointers
on his next speech. Edward James Hyland inhabits old Nestor with a dignified,
if slightly crotchety, air. And, in the key parts of Achilles and Patroclus,
Louis Cancelmi (replacing David Harbour) and Tom Pecinka deliver some
refreshing comic relief. Although a critic once compared these male lovers to
caricatures out of a William Steig cartoon, the pair are also associated with
David and Jonathan in the bible (1 Samuel 18), soul-mates who preferred
each other’s company with no apology.
Casella, as the fool Thersites, is a venomous chorus of one. (The poet
Coleridge famously dubbed this scabrous character the “Caliban of
demagoguery.”) Forrest Malloy renders Menelaus as a milquetoast, a man who has
lost not only his wife (Helen), but face in society. And don’t nod off during
the play’s final scenes! Bill Heck, as the heroic Hector, is not to be
missed. His Hector gets brutally killed at the finale by Achilles and the
Myrmidons. But be forewarned: His death scene may be the bloodiest ever
executed on the Delacorte stage.
not all the performers in this 25-member ensemble have strong Shakespearean
chops. But they all manage, more or less, to wrap their mouths around the
problems with the creative team. David Zinn’s sliding-panel set, complemented
by Robert Wierzel’s lighting, is the brilliant answer to doing quick set
changes. One can expect a glimpse of war-torn landscapes, a spacious orchard,
posh domestic interiors, military camps, and more. And, oh yes. On both edges
of the stage is junked furniture, which serves as an apt metaphor for the chaos
Menard’s sound design, replete with gunfire and explosions, is totally
realistic. And a shout out to co-fight directors, Michael Rossmy and Rick
Sordelet. All the fight scenes are finessed with split-second timing, and the
clashing of weapons is sure to make you heart skip a beat or three.
(Proof, 2001 Tony Award) even-handed direction is superb here. He never
over-reaches himself but adds some terrific millennial touches to his
production. Case in point: In Act 1, for the parade of the Trojan nobility
returning from battle (think Antenor, Aeneas, Hector, and Troilus), he has
Cressida and her Uncle Pandarus intently watching the ceremonious event on a
computer screen. Yes, Sullivan adroitly manages to retain the medieval flavor
of the mythic story but overlays it with telling artifacts from our
contemporary culture. With 10 Delacorte productions already under his belt,
this Troilus and Cressida adds another feather to his cap.
and Cressida has
rightly been dubbed Shakespeare’s most modern play. After seeing this
production, you surely won’t be looking at the world through rose-colored
glasses. But you will gain a better insight into politics, love, and war.
to all performances are free. For information on tickets, visit
the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
time: 3 hours with one intermission.