“All in Love and War's Not Fair"
|Stars range from 5-1.|
Daniel Sullivan’s testosterone-fueled, buff-bodied production of Troilus and Cressida for Shakespeare in the Park (that venerable institution’s third revival of the play) serves the noble purpose of giving work to a cast of nearly 30 actors, well-known and otherwise. They work valiantly to make this satirical “problem” play less problematic; Shakespeare’s script, however, during which two stories (drawn from Homer and Chaucer) vie for attention, neither with a truly admirable character to root for, remains mired in its own internal conflicts, like the war that composes its background.
|Corey Stoll, Alex Breaux. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
|Anftre Burnap, John Glover, Ismenia Mendes. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
|John Douglss Thompson, Sanjit De Silva (as Aeneas), Edward James Hyland (seated). Photo: Joan Marcus.|
The three-hour production is acted with energy, clarity, vigor, and understanding. Cancelmi, who replaced David Harbour as Achilles after that actor suffered—I’m not making this up—a torn Achilles tendon during a fight scene, gives his tattooed, bare-torsoed, unshaven, but nevertheless eloquent hero an edge of macho crudity. The approach captures the coarseness, moral as well as physical, of men at war. Breaux, who's making a career of roles that display his ripped physique (he was the swimmer in Red Speedo), does well by the brutish Ajax even though he’d probably have made a better Achilles and Cancelmi a more convincing Ajax.
Heck gives the finest performance, making Hector a believably conflicted warrior, one who professes nobility but is reduced to savagery; Heck makes every second of his limited stage time count. Max Casella as Thersites, the scurvy, cynical, always raging slave, also deserves notice. Thersites, the voice of ugly truth, is one of Shakespeare's most demanding roles, mingling anger with humor, but it's hard to laugh at what he says. Casella plays him vividly like a ratlike, aging, New York street urchin.
David Zinn has created a functional set of upstage panels and girders that can be swung around into new configurations; his costumes are satisfactory but, apart from several nonmilitary wardrobes, limited by the range of modern combat wear. Robert Weitzel displays an excellent lighting palette, and positive additions are made by Mark Menard’s sound design and Dan Moses Schreier’s intense music. Sullivan keeps things moving, even at the loss of subtlety, but can’t resist the occasional gimmickry intrusion, like having Pandarus and Cressida review the Greek army passing by, hidden from us, on a laptop screen.One of the problems facing Shakespeareans is whether Troilus and Cressida ever was staged in Shakespeare’s lifetime. It has wonderful moments, brilliant language, bawdy humor, and vivid characters; it also bears relevant satirical messages about war and the corrupting power of lust. As Sullivan's competent but not especially memorable revival demonstrates, though, these disparate qualities aren’t enough to overcome a production whose most distinctive scenes belong in a Rambo movie.