“That was weird,” a hip intellectual in the audience says as he exits Cry Trojans!, now playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse until April 19. He’s talking to a young woman who believes the role of Cressida is being shortchanged in the Wooster Group’s Native American rendering of half of William Shakespeare’s Trojan War play, performed mostly by barechested white urban males, pale from the winter (and not necessarily in shape for the war path or lacrosse). The direction is by Elizabeth LeCompte, who puts microphones on the jaws of her players in wigs, allowing the actors to work like they’re in the movies (the St. Ann's Warehouse space is rather small), not worrying about projecting: their insistently flat and regional voices are cool in the way of drug addicts from the seventies, cool in the way we’ve come to think about the company’s famous artists from that period: Sam Shepard and Spalding Gray. Because this is a post-modern interpretation, in maybe the first post-modern play, probably written in 1602, they’re also cooly ironic: one woman, in sky blue, quotes a sweet ditty she heard from The Secret Garden on Second Street: "Close your eyes, cut my wrist." The point is that it may not seem much like Shakespeare, but the Wooster Group is not blaspheming Troilus and Cressida, either. As scholar and literary critic Harold Bloom has pointed out, the play has variously been “termed satire, comedy, history, tragedy, or what you will.” The Wooster Group has taken that freewheeling license to heart, finding a hypnotic rhythm. The audience looks back and forth between the actors on stage and film clips of a Cindy Sherman-like movie, with characters in evening attire, after we’ve watched lip synching and heard metallic breathing sounds. We’ve, of course, been reeled in, through a simple story of faked love (which fizzles out) that just happens to be set on the front lines of war, de-romanticized (which doesn't).
It was the Royal Shakespeare Company (they performed the Greek part of the play) who invited the Wooster Group (they performed the Trojan segments) to prepare Troilus and Cressida for the World Shakespeare Festival, held in England during the London Summer Olympics in 20012. LeCompe then decided to rework the piece without the RSC contribution (except through recorded segments and movie clips), so that we hear the story as a Trojan retelling. We only want to go deeper into her bizarre intensity, in Cry, Trojans!—hearing the chanting, crickets, and songs and sonic stimuli or watching the Native American dancing, parallel stage movements, or repetition of filmic and stage blocking. We may not understand the symbolism of a plastic woman’s torso on an actor’s back or why special triangles are put at the top of a tipi, but it really doesn’t matter. Everything apparently has an emotional rationale, and the piece is never static–even if we lose Shakespeare along the way. Weird, but he can handle it.
Visit: The Wooster Group: http://thewoostergroup.org/blog/
Visit: St. Ann's Warehouse: http://stannswarehouse.org/
© 2015 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
CRY, TORJANS! (TROILUS & CRESSIDA)
Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte
With Ari Fliakos, Scott Sherpard, Andrew Schneider, Greg Mehrten, Kate Valk, Casey Spooner, Suzzy Roche, Koosil-Ja, Jim Fletcher, Eric Dyer