At the Utah Shakespearean Festival
in Cedar City, Shakespeare's most underrated play, "Troilus and
Cressida" is a masterpiece that defies classification. It was
all of the elements of his comedies, dramas, tragedys, and is firmly
rooted in the history of the Trojan War. Outdoors in the Adams
Shakespearean Theater, there is a single set that has minor changes
for the various scenes. There are marble symbols and carvings of
warriors and lovers lining the facade and covering the pillars. They
are broken in places, to symbolize the general decadence and ruin of
the entire affair. There is a model of the city of Troy on a stand at
the front of the stage.
Troilus, the youngest son of King Priam pours out his love for Cressida to her uncle Pandarus, who then tells her of Helen's love for Troilus, in an attempt to make her jealous. He tries to get her to notice Troilus when all of the Trojan warriors return from the field and disarm. After he struts before the crowd he turns toward the balcony to salute her, but she ducks behind Pandarus. The Trojans are all in shiny armor with clean white tunics, with an air of royalty, wealth, and home, as their women cheer them on. The Greeks, on the other hand, are all in brown rags, with beards, and a generally unkempt and crude appearance. The play starts in the seventh year of the war, and the Greeks look like they have been camping out alone for that long. When Aeneas and Antenor issue the challenge from Hector to any Greek, really meaning Achilles, the contrast is driven home by Agamemnon who notes that the Trojan commanders "mock us or are ceremonious courtiers."
"Troilus and Cressida" was written around 1601 when Shakespeare was in full command of his powers, and seemed to be eager to experiment with form and style. The linguistic gymnastics are difficult to follow, even if you are familiar with the language and have just read the play. There are multiple characters speaking in succession, like in the comedies, and multiple entrances, exits, and mood swings. It is, however, very easy to follow the action, even if you're not familiar. Thersites teases and taunts Ajax, who is as big as a horse, and as dumb as a post. He is a mockery of himself as he struts around saying he hates a proud man. Nestor notes that "he do love himself," and Agamemnon says "he will be the physician that should be patient."
Comedy and drama are intertwined flawlessly as we move to the Trojan Court, where Hector urges Priam to give up Helen to the Greeks, because she's not worth the price. Troilus argues against Hector, while their sister, the Prophetess Cassandra wails against keeping her: "Our firebrand Paris, burns us all; Troy burns, or else let Helen go." Paris makes his case, and Hector relents and sends his challenge to the Greeks.
Steam roils from Paris' den as he and Helen appear in a sensuously surrealistic scene. They embrace passionately, as Pandarus sings to them and warriors fight in the field. Tim Redmond's Paris is a smug, arrogant characer with a sickening smirk. He has everyone else fight and suffer for him while he makes love to Helen of Troy. This reaches some sort of climax as Pandarus leads Cressida to Troilus, then pushes them to each other and they embrace in passionate kisses. After she confesses her love for him, Pandarus says "may all go betweens who find lovers a nice warm bed be known as Panderers" if Toilus and Cressida be false. Paris pleads with Aeneas to get Cressida for Diomedes as trade for Antenor who has been captured by the Greeks. Aeneas and Diomedes trade sweet insults in a bizarre scene that soon turns tragic. Cressida is taken from Troilus and given to the Greeks so that Paris can have his pleasure with Helen.
Tyler Layton as Cressida makes you feel the fear, humiliation and helplessness of every Greek kiss, mocking jeer, touch, and rip of the clothes as she's defiled by one Greek after another. When Cameron McNary's tormented Troilus watches as she flirts, then gives herself to Diomedes, thin smoke rises from the model of the city of Troy, that has now appeared on the balcony. First Hecuba, then Cassandra plead in vain to Hector to not go to battle that day. They have both had bloody dreams. The final battle scene is full of stop action. After Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles and the Myrmidons take the field in revenge. They are lined, in dark silhouette kneeling along the front of the stage. When Hector has unarmed, they rise up treacherously, kill him, and chillingly raise him on their spears. Achilles has told Hector that he will pick a spot to kill him, and that spot where the mighty Hector's spirit flowed out would be remembered forever. Ironically it is Achilles heel that is remembered today.
As Hector dies, Troy burns on the balcony, the women wail over Hector, Achilles wails over Patroclus, a stream of sand pours down from the ceiling on Pandarus, and the whole scene turns blood red. Helen and Paris embrace in passionate kisses at the back, Thersites contemptuously waves his arm, and all goes dark on "Troilus and Cressida" at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City. This rarely performed masterpiece continues through Sept. 4, outdoors in The Adams Shakespearean Theater.