Review by Tulis McCall
16 Nov 2009
This production – an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Thomas Heywood’s Iron Age – is confusing and leaves you wondering about Troilus and Cressida but not about war.
The story of the Trojan Wars is stuff from high school English class. Helen (Tina Benko) is taken from her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta (Luis Moreno), to partner with Paris, Prince of Troy (Craig Baldwin) – hence becoming Helen of Troy. A ten-year war ensues to bring her back. In this production Helen is not only willing but able to make the journey, and only a little sorry that the pesky war was taking so long to conclude. As well, Troilus and Cressida themselves are presented as a sort of drive-by romance who have had the misfortune to be connected to the story.
The technical aspects of this play do not wear well. The combatants are all dressed in black and in so similar styles that that it is difficult to tell who is on which side. Brian Kulick, Artistic Director of CSC, has chosen to set this play on a sandy terrain that is originally smothered in red drapery. The Red turns to white and eventually to black as the men and women in this story are stripped down to nothing. The sand is an inconvenient choice for us and the actors. No one looks majestic walking in sand, which is not something you realize until you watch them do it for two hours. These poor folk are going to develop some serious leg muscles before the end of the run.
Thus the sturm and drang of war gets lost in the general mêlée of awkward moves and the odd combination of the texts. Heywood’s rhyme scheme is jarring compared to Shakespeare’s, and entire characters have been removed. Men in black stagger around on a patch of sand until they are struck down. Women in love switch allegiance and cry alarm. Ho hum. Were it not for the excellent performances of Steven Rattazzi as Thersites and Steven Skybell as Ulysses I would have been completely adrift.
The Iron Age seems to be telling us that war is capricious and useless, and love doesn’t stand a chance. War gives otherwise unoccupied men something to do. Love is a luxury that few can afford and is never convenient. War gives the business of war a boost. Love gives too little to too few. These ideas might be of interest were we given characters with whom to connect. As it is, The Age of Iron tries to include too many variables in the tale so that the event becomes action with no heart and words with no soul. In combining two texts and modifying the characters the story was not strengthened. It was diluted.
"The whole thing feels like a hideous sweeps-week stunt."
Adam R. Perlman for Back Stage