Wartime Play Basks in Macho Culture Shakespeare's 'Troilus and Cressida' Pushes Bounds in New York Festival

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TROILUS AND CRESSIDA

Play by William Shakespeare.

Directed by Mark Wing-Davey.

At the Delacorte Theater through Sept. 2.

Postmodern from the get-go, Mark Wing-Davey's production of "Troilus and Cressida" projects William Shakespeare's play into a deconstructed time warp where ancient Greeks and Trojans battle over Helen of Troy with old-fashioned spears in one hand and contemporary pistols in the other.

What unites the evening's diversified elements is a steady fascination with masculine culture, seen as a skittish blend of macho aggressiveness and immature emotionalism.

The show's analyses of war, sexuality, and power politics are often the opposite of subtle, especially when they veer further into R-rated raunchiness than anything I've seen at Central Park's outdoor Delacorte Theater, which is normally conservative about such matters. But the proceedings are always lively, and Shakespeare's own text points the way to all but the most dubious lapses in taste. It's a memorable production, if sometimes an unwieldy and self-indulgent one.

The main story lines of "Troilus and Cressida" revolve around the love of the title characters and the protracted siege of Troy by Greek soldiers, sparked by Paris' abduction of Helen some seven years earlier. One doesn't expect gentleness from a play featuring warriors like Achilles and Hector, and sexual indelicacy isn't surprising when the aptly named Pandarus is on hand to promote the affair that preoccupies Cressida, his lovely niece.

Taking its cue accordingly, Wing-Davey's interpretation stresses the plot's most boisterous possibilities, firmly linking them to the play's war-torn setting. Questionable doings like Pandarus' smarmy machinations, feuds and rivalries among the soldiers, and the outrageous rantings of the misanthropic Thersites are all anchored in the masculine mystique of the battleground environment. …