Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Famous History of Troilus and Cressida

Diomedes & Cressida (Troilus at left, seething)

Every three years, by accident is not design. I am contracted by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival to direct one of the Bard’s lesser-performed works. Six years ago that was Henry VIII. In 2015, Timon of Athens. This summer, we will present Troilus and Cressida.

It’s fun. “Oh,” the people say, “I’ve never seen that one!” That’s right. No one has. I mean, they have, there are those that have, but most have not.

We learned of a couple who saw a Shakespeare play on their honeymoon and have made it their mission to see a production of every one of his (to date) thirty-eight acknowledged plays. Three years ago, they traveled from Cincinnati to see my Timon. It was number thirty-four on their list!

The advantage of staging the pieces few know is that I can do whatever I want with them. People would howl if you left “To be or not to be” out of your production of Hamlet. No one would notice if I left out “What is aught, but as ‘tis valued?” though that is a good line, one of the major themes, and I feel not bad at all giving it to a different character to speak.

Troilus and Cressida is lesser tale of the Trojan War, named for the fiery, brief love affair between one of the sons of Priam (Troilus) and the daughter (Cressida) of a Trojan priest and traitor. When, on the urging of the traitor for his daughter to join him on the side of Greece, an exchange is arranged for her and a Trojan prisoner.

The text suggests that Cressida easily takes up with one of the Grecian soldiers, though you could easily imagine she is actually trying to align herself to one who would protect her in a perilous situation. Regardless, Troilus spies their exchanges and assumes the worst.

There are those who believe this play answers the question, “Did Shakespeare believe that Romeo and Juliet would have had a long, faithful life together, had they lived?” That answer is no.

However, that is not all Troilus and Cressida, the play, is about. It’s about all kinds of things, with a mythological weight thanks to a staff of characters including Agamemnon, King of Greeks, Helen, she whose face launched a thousand ships, Cassandra, the clairvoyant and unheeded, Nestor, the ancient and verbose, Priam, king of Troy, and Andromache, his queen.

I have cut all of these characters from this production.

Rather, we will focus in large part on Troilus and Cressida themselves, who are not actually the primary focus of the full-length text, as well as the character of Achilles. War has bogged down. As Ulysses observes, this is due less to the Trojans strength, and more to the laziness, apathy and indulgence of the Greeks, as best reflected in the person of Achilles, who refuses to fight and spends hours in his tent with his lover, Patroclus.

Our production will reflect a modern superpower, one also accused of apathy and indulgence.

Rehearsals begin this weekend, the company largely composed of actors I have never worked with before, or even met before auditions. I am very excited to get started.

Cleveland Shakespeare Festival presents "Troilus & Cressida" opening June 15, 2018.

2 comments:

  1. On behalf of The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival as well as personally, We are thrilled to be a part of this remarkable series in David's writing. We are honored with his presence as a member of our company in many ways. Tyson D. Rand

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    1. Thanks for asking me, boo! It's going to be a great summer.

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