Troilus and Cressida

Local Arts Reviews


Troilus and Cressida: Go Home a Hero

Blue Theatre,

through April 8

Running Time: 2 hrs, 15 min

Of all Shakespeare's comedies, Troilus and Cressida is the least popular and least performed, and with good reason. The text is thick, the comic moments sparse, and the characters difficult to cast. If you've been exposed to the history of Western civilization, the subject matter is familiar. The play depicts the events between Paris' kidnapping of Helen, igniting the Trojan War, and the creation of the Trojan horse and subsequent fall of Troy. What you get here is the contest between the Greek Ajax and the Trojan Hector and the swap of the Trojan maiden Cressida for the captured Trojan Antenor. Director Sharon Sparlin uses this framework as a jumping-off point to comment on our modern media fascination with guns and violence and the exploitation and objectification of women.

At times, this Iron Belly Muses production is fascinating to watch, and when it works, it works wonders. The primary conceit is that the events of the play are being taped by a Jerry Springer-like talk show, with one of the characters, Thersites, as our Springer, and Sparlin appearing throughout toting a camera and recording the scenes. One character -- Cressida's father Calchas, played by Robert Berry -- appears only on video and delivers a most effective performance. Cressida at times is represented by a large cutout of a nude woman, which is made up with lipstick, rouged nipples, and sketched-in pubic hair. All the female characters, including the mad Cassandra chained, miked, and singing in a cage, and the beautiful Helen, handling a fleshy dildo and riding in a bubblewrap-filled shopping cart, are portrayed convincingly in a single costume by a single performer, Rebecca Robertson. One of the characters has been transformed into a briefcase filled with cocaine. Cressida's uncle Pandarus is a gun dealer with an impressive display of weapons. All the males sport handguns and, at one point, do a truly marvelous dance number with them. Visa, MasterCard, Cheerios (both regular and Honey-Nut), Cascade, Sonic fast food, and an actual Volkswagen bug prominently appear on the Blue Theatre's stage, which is backed by a huge American flag lit with fluorescent lights and sporting 13 stars. At one point, one of the actors used a local shopping chain's "Go Home a Hero" slogan, and I had an epiphany, the past became the present, and I could see clearly how the two were not only related, but being used to manipulate me. It's interesting in the best sense, and if any of this sparks your interest, visit the Muses' excellent Web site at

All that said, the production has problems, one of them major. Most of the effective moments have nothing to do with Shakespeare's text. Director Sparlin deals with it by … well, by not dealing with it. She cuts it extensively, adds text from other Shakespeare plays, and adds text she or the actors have written. Most of the time, the actors deliver Shakespeare's scripted lines so quickly that neither they, nor we, can make any sense of them. If the text is such a problem, why use it at all? Is it just for Shakespeare's name? To draw that audience? And if so, doesn't that just buy into the whole commercial, corporate structure being parodied here? There are other problems as well -- such as the token Texan drawling around the stage, a figure in so many recent Shakespeare updates that's he's getting more than a bit trite -- but throughout, I was never, ever bored, and that's a good thing. This is definitely not for Shakespeare purists, but I found it to be the most effective updating of a Shakespeare play I've seen. While Sparlin's reach may exceed her grasp, you have to admire the length of her arm.

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Troilus and Cressida, Sharon Sparlin, iron belly muses, Robert Berry, Rebecca Robertson

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